It didn’t take long for the audience in Luther Burbank Park to figure out we were in for a very different rendition of Shakespeare’s Cymbeline. A large white Ford van is parked upstage left; King Cymbeline enters the stage in pajamas and the proud husband of the king’s daughter, the valiant Posthumus, is wearing a bright yellow dress. Associate Artistic Director Makaela Milburn and artist Meme Garcia have created a wildly imaginative take on this problematic work for Seattle Shakespeare’s outdoor Wooden O series.
With Cymbeline, Shakespeare began to insert romantic elements into his script that still contained more traditional aspects of his earlier histories and tragedies. He would go on to hone this romantic approach with his writings of The Winter’s Tale and The Tempest. In Cymbeline, the fairy tale elements of the plot, such as the evil queen and the wronged, innocent princess seem at times to be an awkward fit with the tale’s more traditional elements such as a bitter clash between Rome and King Cymbeline’s ancient Britain. Milburn and Garcia appreciate the disparate qualities of the work and take full advantage of them. Milburn notes that “Cymbeline will be a queer-forward story with music that draws upon a joyful blending of different styles and times” that the script offers.
The project succeeds thanks to a wonderfully enthusiastic and talented cast. Stephanie Roman ably portrays the spunky, rebellious princess Imogen. Nicholas Japaul Bernard, as Posthumus, works up a terrifying jealous rage when he wrongly assumes his innocent wife has betrayed him. As Jachimo, Marco Adiak Voli is called upon to morph from friendly Bro, to conniving scheming suitor to finally a potential gay lover. He handles all the roles with aplomb. Most impressive, Anne Allgood is able to dig deeper into the role of the evil queen, finding moving moments of emotional truth.
The production meets the conflicting demands of the script with an imaginative no holds barred approach. The spoiled son of the queen wields a Nerf bat and rides around on a toy unicorn. The play sometimes inexplicably goes into the Spanish language. One of Jachimo’s monologues is now expertly shared with Imogen. Ukuleles and cell phones serve as important props. The action is sometimes halted for very modern observational asides. When we have barely made our way past the halfway point of the action, the cast decides to hurry the plot along by summarizing the rest of the story with a lively original show tune.
These dramatic detours sometimes require an abandonment of the Bard’s language, which can be a bit jarring. But the troupe never loses their passion and focus in acting out their unique interpretation of the play. The final product is an impassioned celebration of finding our individual truth in love and life. The production, in tandem with A Midsummer Night’s Dream, continues at a variety of local parks through August 7. For more information go to seattleshakespeare.org.