It's 1609 and William Shakespeare, in his mid-40s, realizes he has made a commitment to write another play. He's already written more than two dozen, and he's tired. His imagination just won't conjure up another plot.
But he has an idea:
"With snippets of plots from my tales of old / And fresh turns of phrase my plays are resold / Neither quill nor my fingers can afford to lay idle / 'Till putting ink to paper produces a title."
In other words, he decides to pull from the old to make the new.
And that is how we imagine "Cymbeline," one of the Bard's last plays, was born. He works in a manipulative Iago-esque character ("Othello"). He fits in a father/daughter relationship with echoes of "Lear." A sleeping potion echoes "Romeo and Juliet. And he puts in a bit of cross-dressing, a device he used often before "Cymbeline." The play is a bit of a hodgepodge.
The Arizona Repertory Theatre production of "Cymbeline," which opened Wednesday, was a hodgepodge, too. Music that evoked the jazz of the '20s, the cinema of the '50s, and a barbershop quartet of the late 1800s. Some costumes that spoke of World War I and others of Darth Vader.
But, here's the thing: It worked. Director Brent Gibbs wrung every bit of humor out of the play, and even added some we never noticed before. He also streamlined the story, concentrating on the central love story and the betrayals and conflicts that surrounded it. The result was a edited-down Shakespeare without blaspheming him.
In a nutshell: Cymbeline is the gentle but easily manipulated king; his wife, Queen, is wicked, wicked wicked. She wants her son (and the king's stepson), Cloten, an arrogant sod, to be king so she is pushing for him to marry Imogen, the king's daughter. Trouble is, Imogen's in love with the lowly Posthumus, and the two wed secretly. Cymbeline is not happy about that and banishes Posthumus. In his banishment, he meets a complete cad, Iachimo, who wagers Posthumus that he can seduce Imogen. Never, Posthumus declares; she's way too loyal. And so all sorts of lies, deceits, etc., etc., take off.
The large cast stayed true to their characters and the spirit of the play. The University of Arizona students are actors in training, and that is usually clear when they take on Shakespeare. But they had a master teacher in Kevin Black, who played the good king Cymbeline. Black, an associate professor in theater at the UA, doesn't recite Shakespeare, he breathes him. The sentence structure and language that can trip up so many young actors flow musically over Black's tongue. Those actors were learning the art of performing Shakespeare from an expert.
Sure, there were stumbles. But there were some shining moments, too.
Micah Bond, a UA sophomore, took on the role of Iachimo with a manipulative air and a slimy sheen. Bond is just a sophomore and this is his first Shakespeare there. He was a natural at it.
Others who showed commitment and promise include Sean Meshew, who plays a doctor with authority and a keen sense of timing. Sammie Lideen effectively mixes a beautiful exterior with a most ugly interior as the Queen. And Brooke Hartnett gives a lovely, honest innocence to Imogen. Opening night there was a glitch with the light board, and part of the play was performed without the fancy lighting. The actors showed a real "show must go on" spirit, and the performances didn't suffer terribly.
Still, it was a shame - lighting designer Hamilton Smith, a UA senior, did some terrific work creating moods and underscoring emotions with his lighting before that board blinked out.
• What: Arizona Repertory Theatre's production of William Shakespeare's "Cymbeline."
• Director: Brent Gibbs.
• When: 1:30 p.m. today and next Sunday; 7:30 p.m. Thursday through next Sunday. No performances during spring break; they resume March 22-24.
• Where: Tornabene Theatre in the University of Arizona Fine Arts Complex, near North Park Avenue and East Speedway.
• Cost: $28, discounts available.
• Reservations/information: 621-1162 or tickets.arizona.edu
• Running time: 2 1/2 hours, with one intermission.
Contact reporter Kathleen Allen at email@example.com or 573-4128.