Shakespeare’s Cymbeline was always the story of Princess Imogen and Pointless Theatre’s adaptation rightly makes her the headline act. The original title character, the puppet king, is reduced to a literal puppet on the hand of his new wife. That change in emphasis sees Imogen as part of DC’s Women’s Voices Theater Festival and while much of her journey feels relevant to be in that conversation (including her own #metoo moment) the conclusion appears tone deaf by comparison.
The Dance Loft on 14th Street is the new home for Pointless Theatre and it features a twisted fairy-tale style backdrop by Patti Kalil. The design is simple but effectively combines a palatial feel with that of an enchanted forest while three main archways are covered with white sheets that along with some smartly designed panels in the walls allow the cast to enhance the story telling through silhouette and shadow puppetry.
As the story begins the world created for us through the costumes of Julie Cray Leong and the lighting design of Mary Keegan is visually captivating which offsets some of lack of accessibility of the Shakespearean language. Katelyn Manfre (Imogen) displays a familiarity with that language that allows her to connect with her arc from playful princess (in her wonderfully staged entrance) to a soldier on the battlefield. Hillary Morrow is terrific as the Queen and her physicality and total commitment to the additional role of Cymbeline make that bold choice at least feel interesting, if not totally successful, when in a lesser hand it could have fallen flat. Kiernan McGowan makes our skin crawl as Iachimo – a character with no redeeming qualities – but the choice to depict him as an actual monster with Freddie Kruger esque hands in the scene where he sexually assaults Imogen seems unnecessary and gives her experience a dream like quality where we could question whether it really happened.
The staging and movement is a highlight throughout from Director, Charlie Marie McGrath, and Choreographer, Ryan Sellers, and the impressive gender transformation of Imogen is further elevated by the live music provided by Jonathan Een Newton & Michael Winch. Winch is the Music Director and the Composer and his work heightens many of the best moments while the technical balance between music and actors delivery is handled deftly throughout.
The convoluted plot of Shakespeare’s original work is difficult enough to follow and unfortunately the production of this adaptation tries to do way too much. Re-framing the tale with Imogen being recognized at its’ center combined with this groups passion for puppetry is enough. The evolving costumes as the play progresses – to somehow convey that this is a story and issues that can be transposed to a modern time – are handled inconsistently, and any power that the message could have conveyed (perhaps through just Imogen changing) is lost in the confusion. There are casting issues too with Lee Gerstenhaber distractingly too young for the role of Belarius, meanwhile a major plot point requires Leonatus (Alex Turner) and Cloten (Maximilian Lapine) to be similar body types – which they are not – giving the audience an opportunity to check out of the reality we are trying to be immersed in.
There is some absorbing work here. Once we accept the fact that the soldiers are now wearing camo and we embrace the presence of the twentieth century tanks during this Roman war, the battle scene in act two is an enjoyable attack on the senses. Choreography, music, sounds and lights crash together to create something quite special when viewed in isolation. Unfortunately it’s really the only the only highlight of a disjointed second act that will soon reach an unsatisfying completion. There are significant directorial issues in the final scene with no attempt at all to conceal the identity of Iachimo or Leonatus even though they are kneeling right next to each other and in full sight of Imogen making the revelation moments that follow almost bizarre.
And then comes that conclusion.
George Bernard Shaw’s Cymbeline Refinished written 80 years ago allowed Imogen to express a stronger feminist message than the original work and this should have been the foundation for Pointless to expand upon. Instead, after all Imogen has been through she takes back Leonatus who tried to have her killed and forgives Iachimo, who sexually assaulted her and we are left with thoughts of an opportunity lost.
#tothepoint Rating: 63/100
You can view a full breakdown of the allocated points here.
Ticket Price: $30
Value Review: -$4