“CYMBELINE” by William Shakespeare Presented by The New World Shakespeare Company

I will stipulate that mental illness is a problem, one that is too often unrecognized. Certainly Cloten’s mental illness in Shakespeare’s Cymbeline has gone unrecognized for 400 years. Whether it adds anything to the play to make it the delusion of a person suffering from mental illness, or adds anything to the battle against mental illness to make it the framework within which the play is presented, is something audience members will have to decide. For me, not.

Extricating the play from this framework, there are some strengths to this production. For the most part the staging is well done, with creative use of the space in front of the stage and the aisles. No attempt was made to display a palace for King Cymbeline, or a tavern for the wagerers in Italy, but Shakespeare didn’t need them, and neither do we. Lacking a cave for Belarius and his children, ivy-covered columns served very well.

And there were some good performances. Alyssa Franks as Imogen shines, with just the right edge of emotion. Every word as clear as Hamlet could have wished. She was nearly matched by Cloten (there seems to be some question about who played Cloten: the cast list says Christos Legeros, but the cast biographies say Christopher-Alan Pedersen), her siblings, played by Caitlin Lanzel and Harrison Lind, and Mandy Titcomb as Iachimo. Others need to remember that first day on the set when the director told them to “cheat out,” enunciate, and project.

But the production doesn’t quite have the courage of its convictions. Some of the problems (clumsy set changes, missed light and sound cues) will clear up during the run (I saw it opening night). But if you’re going to go all out for most of the costumes, why not all of them? Can you get rid of Cloten’s ankle tat, and his and Postumus’s quiffs? And find another spear point? And something other than bouncy foam rubber for Cloten’s severed head?

That lack of commitment shows up from time to time in the blocking, particularly in the final scenes, when physical struggles seemed forced and inconclusive. Again, some of that may work out over time.

I like Cymbeline and, with the exceptions I have mentioned, I liked this production. It’s a complicated plot, but the exposition was clear, the excisions of lines and characters cleanly done, and the direction competent and occasionally inspired. The staging of Cloten’s headless body on stage alone is worth the price of admission (part of which, BTW, is donated to the Utah chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness).

So support your local Shakespeare Company, and catch this production before it ends.

“Cymbeline” by William Shakespeare, presented by The New World Shakespeare Company. Christopher-Alan Pedersen, Director. Presented at The Leonardo May 1-11 at 7:00 p.m.

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