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A CurtainUp Berkshire Review

Isee a man's life is tediousIhave tired myself, and for two nights togetherHavemade the ground my bed. I should be sick.Imogenbemoaning life on the road, disguised as a man. — Cymbeline
Josh Aaron McCabe and Tamara Hickey. (Photo by Stratton McCrady)
Cynmbeline is arguably Shakespeare'slast play and also perhaps his most unloved. Rarely produced and thus unknown,I myself have never read it (shame on me).

There's nothing wrong with the play. It incorporates so many of the Bard's familiar plot devices and story lines that it's almost a resume of his work — a Shakespeare sampler, if you will.

Lovers separately by misguided royal decree, kidnapped children, an evil queen and the reunion of exiled friends and royal subjects are overseen, and eventually redeemed by the powerful god Jupiter, who seems to enjoy mucking up the fates of mere mortals. Why then would such an overflowing work employing such proven plot lines be ignored? Perhaps because of an air of been there, done that?

How does one make powerful the familiar? Thankfully all these sins of omission are remedied by a robust and intoxicatingly funny (yes) production at Shakespeare & Company in Lenox, Mass.

Tina Packer, founder of Shakespeare & Company and former artistic director, is at the helm and she uses the plot as a syllabus for a Master Class in imaginative staging. She's drawn from traditions of commedia del' arte and vaudeville and made the most of doubling (actors here play at least two roles and most of them play three).

Packer has filled the stage with non-stop action. Wigs, costumes and even swords change places (and characters) at a dizzying speed. For the cast of nine she has enlisted some of the company's most talented veterans, beginning with JonathanEpstein who plays Cymbeline.

Epstein, who could convey majesty by simply reading the weather report, is the solid core of the tale. Jason Asprey another veteran, is deliciously funny as the vain popinjay, Cloten. He nurtures a love-hate relationship with the audience. Clearly Cloten/Asprey is in love with himself, but hates any inattention from the audience. His "stare downs" are funny indeed.

Tamara Hickey and Thomas Brazzle are the troubled lovers and both contribute emotional and winning performances. Hickey generously embodies both of the Bard's favorite characteristics in his heroines— beauty and spunkiness.Among the villains.

I greatly admired the smoothly calculating Iachimo of Josh Aaron McCabe. The scene where he sneaks into Imogen's bedchamber in a plan to betray her to Posthumus could have been staged, and acted, with overflowing evil. Instead, Packer and McCabe turn it into a hilarious exercise in comic timing.

Nigel Gore, Deaon Griffin-Pressley and Ella Loudon are able cohorts and a special cheer (jeer?) for the mean Queen of Bella Merlin. The minimal setting nevertheless suggests a nearby royalty and from my excellent seat the costumes of Tyler Kinney seemed extraordinarily designed and executed. His attention to detail was exemplary. The sounds design of David Reiffel contributed effective shadings of menace, sounds of battle, the arrivals of ghostly intruders and the mightiness of Jupiter. And yes, everyone that deserves it dies, and those who seek redemption, find it.

There is a clever touch at the end that should please Anglophiles. The war between Britain and Rome has ended with Britain the winner. In celebration, two soldiers strut the stage waving flags: the familiar Union Jack of Britain, and what appears to be the blue with and white stars banner of the European Union. It suggests there will be no Brexit during the monarchy of Cymbeline.

. Check the box office for specific dates and curtain times.Tina Packer PlayhouseShakespeare & Company70 Kemble StreetLenox, Mass.Box office: (413) 637-3353or contact .

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Cymbeline by William Shakespeare
Director: Tina Packer
Cast (principal roles): Jason Asprey (Cloten), Thomas Brazzle (Posthumus), Jonathan Epstein (Cymbeline), Nigel Gore (Belarius), Deaon Griffin-Pressley (Pisanio), Tamara Hickey (Imogen), Ella Loudon (Guiderius),Josh Aaron McCabe (Iachimo), Bella Martin (Queen)
Costume design: Tyler Kinney
Set design: Kris Stone
Sound design: David Reiffel
Lighting design: Deb Sullivan
Fight director: Jason Asprey
Stage Manager: Hope Rose Kelly
Movement Choreographer:Kristin Wold
Check the box office for specific dates and curtain times. Tina Packer Playhouse, Shakespeare & Company70 Kemble StreetLenox, Mass.Box For dates and curtain times: (413) 637-3353or contact
. Reviewed by Chesley Plemmons

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