Tour Guide to Shakespeare 

Portland Center Stage's Shakespeare's Amazing Cymbeline.


Cymbeline is a lesser-known Shakespeare play that nonetheless offers plenty of familiar Shakespearian tropes: mistaken identity, star-crossed love, and that one really tricky drug that makes people think you're dead when you're not.

Portland Center Stage does something interesting here: Rather than changing the setting of the play (as happens too often when it's determined Shakespeare needs to be "freshened up"), PCS changes the context by asking us to watch the play through the eyes of someone else. Shakespeare's Amazing Cymbeline is presented with sideline commentary and music from a piano player (Michael Keck) who investigates the meaning of the show, while also providing helpful bits of context about who's mad at whom for being a Roman.

At the heart of Cymbeline is the love story between high-spirited Imogen (the terrific Kelley Curran) and the lowborn Posthumous (Ryan McCarthy). As their romance unfolds, households and empires become equally involved; here, love is most definitely a battlefield.

It's quite a good show, despite a few questionable decisions. Chris Coleman's adaptation calls for only six actors to play upward of 15 characters—it certainly made for some entertaining high-paced costume changes, but I'm not sure what else that decision contributed. And while the comments of the piano player were occasionally helpful in following the unfamiliar story, much of the writing was clunky and self-serious, at odds with the wacky costume changes and frothy plot. I like the notion of an in-show guide to material like this—too bad he was kind of a buzzkill.

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