If you’ve never seen—or even heard of—Shakespeare’s Cymbeline, you’re in good company. One of the Bard’s least-produced works, the synopsis of the play’s plot would take up at least the length of this entire review, and that would only scratch the surface. Theatre Prometheus gamely tackles this challenge and offers the audience just enough of a wink and knowing smile to make this little-known play more fun for DC audiences.
As the title suggests, this production makes one very big change to the script, which is that they’ve transformed the main male lead, Posthumus, into a woman, and gender-swapped many of the other characters as well. Unlike some other recent Shakespearian productions involving playing with gender—which have been criticized for not using this tool to truly complicate the work they’re doing or even adding in elements of misogyny to the text—Cymbeline actually benefits from its queering.
The same-sex nature of the relationship between Posthumus (Briana Manente, with a pleasing swagger) and Imogen (Caitlin Partridge, with ample tenderness and strength) makes it more believably objectionable to Imogen’s father and heightens the central conflict, while also adding a touch of modernity to the proceedings.
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closes January 29, 2017
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That modern edge is carried through the design, from Kristina Martin’s costumes, which perfectly blend both punk-y elements and classic garb, to Patrick A. Lachance’s sound design comprised of thematically appropriate contemporary songs that get their own delighted response from the audience. Under Tracey Erbacher’s able direction, the pacing is quick and breaks in the fourth wall abound—all of which helps to smooth over shifts in tone and plot holes inherent in the script and help to render the classic format and language more engaging for modern audiences.
Manente and Partridge are supported by a talented and enthusiastic supporting cast, including Jonathan Rizzardi, who brings a swarmy sashay to the scheming Iachomo, and Jacqueline Chenault, who lends dignity and warmth to the role of Pisiano, Posthumus and Imogen’s servant and our sometimes narrator. Many members of the cast play multiple roles, and just about all of them do so with much gusto and aplomb.
The tagline for [gay] Cymbeline is #MakeShakespeareGayAgain, but what Theatre Prometheus has actually done is to create a fresher and more enjoyable version of this classic play. The script’s inherent flaws still can be seen underneath all of the gender swapping and queering and anachronisms; but the exuberance and fun of the presentation makes them easy to ignore—and maybe even embrace.
[gay] Cymbeline by William Shakespeare. Directed by Tracey Erbacher. Cast: Christopher Holbert, Caitlin Partridge, Renae Erchsen-Teal, Zach Boylan, Briana Manente, Jacqueline Chenault, Rachael Murray, Mollie Goff, Renea Brown, Jonathan Rizzardi . Assistant director: Rachel Messbauer. Lighting and set designers: Eric McMorris and Yannick Godts. Costume design: Kristina Martin. Sound design: Patrick A. Lachance. Production manager: Nora Spellane. Stage manager: Jeannie Melcher. Dramaturg: Caitlin Partridge. Fight choreographer: Megan Behm. Music director: Sarah Davis. Produced by Theatre Prometheus . Reviewed by John Bavoso.