by Lynn on February 6, 2020

in The Passionate Playgoer

At Junction City Music Hall, 2907 Dundas St. W, Toronto, Ont.

Written by William Shakespeare

Directed by Julia Nish-Lapidus

Fight choreographer, Bailey Green

Music from the catalogue of Matt Nish-Lapidus

Cast: Mairi Babb

Daniel  Briere

Déjah Dixon-Green

Bailey Green

Melanie Leon

David Mackett

Jesse Nerenberg

Catherine Rainville

Emilio Vieira

James Wallis

Kiana Woo

A bracing, clear production of this wild play.

The Story. Shakespeare could be impish with his play titles. All’s Well That End’s Well doesn’t really. And his play Cymbeline isn’t about Cymbeline, the King of Britain. It’s actually about Innogen (or Imogen in some editions) Cymbeline’s daughter and her efforts to be with her husband Posthumus Leonatus. Cymbeline has banished him. Posthumus thinks the world of Innogen and says so to all who will listen. One person is Iachimo, an Italian nobleman,  who wagers that Innogen is not true now that her husband is out of the way and he goes further by saying he can prove it by sleeping with her and bringing Posthumus some keepsake to prove it. Posthumus takes the bet.

Iachimo makes a courtesy call to Cymbeline and is invited into the palace. He delivers a loving letter from Posthumus to Innogen and therefore gains her trust. When she is asleep he manages to get into her bedroom (he’s hidden in a trunk…see the production and you’ll see how that’s done) and takes a bracelet off Innogen’s arm and notes various physical attributes. When he reports this to Posthumus and gives him the bracelet Posthumus is incredulous and then instantly enraged at Innogen’s deception. Posthumus sends a letter to Pisanio, his servant, instructing him to kill Innogen for being “a strumpet to my bed”. Pisanio doesn’t believe this is true and shows Innogen the letter. She’s stunned but urges Pisanio to follow through with the deed. He won’t but they plan how to find the truth.

The Production. Cymbeline is a play about a strong woman (Innogen) in a production full of strong women. While the production is pared down with no set and one major prop of a large book with a “C” on it—presumably the text— there is nothing skimpy about the scholarship and detail of thought that goes into the production.

Director Julia Nish-Lapidus’ decision to use the name of Innogen rather than Imogen was not done lightly. She notes that the prevailing thought was that Shakespeare originally intended that the name be Innogen but the two n’s close together looked like an ‘m’ so Imogen was the result. She also notes that in the third Arden edition the spelling is “Innogen” but in my Arden edition it’s Imogen, so she went with what Shakespeare might have intended. Such is the thinking of a detail-minded director with a clear idea and vision. Julia Nish-Lapidus’ production goes like a bat-out-of-hell. Scenes are swift and precise. There is a sense of urgency about it. Posthumus is exiled by Cymbeline and he must leave immediately. Posthumus and Innogen’s parting is rushed and not at all the lingering they want. Iachimo’s duplicitous trick is done quickly and he rushes to prove his point with Posthumus. The subplots also have their own pulsing drive. The Queen, Innogen’s step-mother, is conniving and plotting so that her son Cloten will marry Innogen. And for good measure, there are two missing royal children that are found. There is a lot going on in this wild play. It’s all handled with care and efficiency by Julia Nish-Lapidus.

The performances also have that clarity of thought. There is nothing muddy about any performance. They are lead by Catherine Rainville as a determined, smart Innogen. The performance is of a woman who is tenacious, curious and wily. She is also loving and compassionate. Pisanio is played by Bailey Green thus making a character who is a man, into a strong, loyal woman. Mairi Babb as the Queen, Innogen’s step-mother, is an outwardly accommodating woman, but inwardly she is conniving and duplicitous. A smile disappears quickly when her head is turned from another character—the audience sees it all.

As Posthumus, Jesse Nerenberg is impassioned and loving to Innogen but easily enraged when he thinks she is untrue. If I have a quibble, it’s that the raging tends to be one note—a bit more nuance would be helpful in rounding out the character. All of Iachimo’s conniving is beautifully realized by Daniel Briere’s performance. This is a character who loves to make mischief and we see how Iachimo relishes the evil he can create in this confident performance. Poor, dimwitted Cloten is played with puffed up angst by Emilio Vieira.

Shakespeare BASH’d has created another bracing production of the Bard that is inventive, clear and beautifully done. As usual.  

Comment. Shakespeare is masterful in creating easily duped men into believing the worst of honest, true women. Note Leontes mistrusting his loyal wife Hermione in The Winter’s Tale; or Claudio mistrusting his loving fiancée, Hero and her father Leonato mistrusting her too in Much Ado About Nothing with virtually no proof except someone said so; and now Posthumus is instantly bend out of shape about the honesty of Innogen in Cymbeline.  Shakespeare is just as masterful at creating thoughtful, smart women who don’t fly off the handle in such cases but are measured and calm in their reactions. They have more commonsense than the men they love. Hermione knows that Leontes will be heartsick when he realizes that he is wrong about her. In Much Ado About Nothing the women (Beatrice and Hero), and one good man (Benedick) will teach the truth about the women to their misinformed men. And in Cymbeline Innogen sets out to find out the truth about Posthumus’ accusations. She does not distrust him. She knows that something has happened and she will find out the truth. It’s always interesting to see the difference in behaviour between the wrong-headed men—raging, blinkered and thoughtless—and the women—questioning, tempered in their reactions and focused on finding the truth about men they know well who are behaving strangely.

The run is short and sold-out. But the good people of Shakespeare BASH’d will do everything they can to find space if you show up at the door. The production is worth the wait in line.

Presented by Shakespeare BASH’d

Opened: Feb. 4, 2020.

Closes: Feb. 9, 2020.

Running Time: 2 hours 30 minutes.

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