Trademark Strawdog Theatre Acting Excellence
With little more than their considerable acting prowess and superb direction (Robert Kauzlaric, Director), the ensemble that Strawdog Theatre has collected for this production of William Shakespeare’s CYMBELINE simply thrills. Expect to walk out of the modest Factory Theatre space in Rogers Park energized, and pinching yourself yet again for your luck at living in a city with such great theater talent. Strawdog clearly makes a habit of snagging some of the best actors onto their stage; here they do it again.
CYMBELINE is not usually considered one of Shakespeare’s major works—but it is certainly vintage Shakespeare. Will was the perhaps the first sentimentalist to evoke plots with “family values” at their heart, often in the form of children lost or stolen at birth, ever driving their parents to distraction. Count CYMBELINE in that camp. And though it must have been even greater fun in Shakespeare’s day watching male actors become female actors become male characters, all that cross-dressing with a purpose is always a key plot point. Spurned lovers and betrayals, loyalties lost and renewed, and battle scenes—all these Shakespeare trademarks are in CYMBELINE.
At center, it is mainly a love story in which the lovers (Posthumus, played by Sam Hubbard and Imogen played by Daniella Pereira) overcome their feelings of betrayal brought on by a bad actor, the villain (Iachimo, played by Jose Nateras). Don’t misread “bad actor” as a critic’s evaluation of Nateras’ performance. Quite the contrary, his is a very memorable bad guy brought to life with just the right mix of villain and human. His strong performance is matched by Hubbard and Pereira’s ability to convey lust, adoration, resentments at their foes, gender stereotypes and more as the script requires.
Many of the smaller cameo players also have what it takes to engage you to the fullest— and they do. With the exception of her finale monologue that struck as a tad too passionate for the moment, we come to relish Michaela Petro as the manservant Pisanio, making her minor role into an electric presence on the stage. Dan Cobbler aptly performs the role of Guideras, one of the King’s long lost sons, and then at one point almost startles with his lovely voice when he begins to sing. Terry Bell as his brother Arviragus speaks volumes just by how he comically raises his eyebrows, sending this reviewer to the program notes to see if he has logged many hours on Improv stages (note: not listed).
Die-hard lovers of fight choreography should definitely shortlist this production of CYMBELINE and go soon—perhaps a few times.
Inevitable Comparison to Chicago Shakespeare Theatre
It strikes this reviewer as always a bit gutsy for a Chicago theater group to take on a Shakespeare play in the long shadow cast by Chicago Shakespeare Theatre from their lush and plush theater space in Navy Pier, where it seems no production cost is ever spared.
Chatting with another theater-goer “of a certain age”, during the opening night, CST’s production in Ruth Page Theater of CYMBELINE 30 years or so ago was indeed front of mind for both of us. Then, CST had transformed CYMBELINE into a somewhat different piece by unleashing the comic talents of the actors playing the Queen and her goofy son (Linda Kimbrough and Ross Lehman). Though this reviewer had felt compelled to see that production three times in short order, there are quite a few decades of mental dust crowding out clear memories of the blow by blow actions. Even so, fellow long-time Chicago theater-goers might similarly acknowledge that Gage Wallace as Cloten and Sarah Goden as the Queen did a fine job with Strawdog, but not one that will ever sear the memory banks like these predecessors.
That said, and especially for those of us who love the passion and chemistry of small-budget theaters, Strawdog does an excellent job of making Shakespeare highly accessible, just as the 800-pound gorilla CST does.
We get Shakespeare’s beautiful words swimming in our heads, a story that moves at an engaging clip with no dead spaces, and moment after moment that makes you smile.
Note: An excerpt of this review appears in Theatre in Chicago.
Through February 25
Thursdays – Saturdays at 8 PM
Sundays at 4 PM
1623 Howard St