For its 23rd season, New York Classical Theatre has chosen Shakespeare’s Cymbeline. This inventive, lively company is the perfect troupe to take on a work that even Will’s Mum likely thought a headache. Equal parts comedy, tragedy, romance, and fairytale, the work has a cast of nearly 40 and spans multiple locations. With a wink and a smile, NY Classical’s jovial band of seven actors skillfully tackles the Everest-high pile of coincidences and present an evening of pure enjoyment.
The group’s signature style includes traditional staging from the 19th century and the use of New York City parks as a natural backdrop. In years past, viewers would physically move with the actors as the scene changed. This year, the city has requested that a single area be used in each location, but the action is staged so that the audience remains the focus of attention. Costumes are minimal with a simple hat or cloak often distinguishing between multiple characters. (Thanks to designer Sabrinna Fabi, Queen looks as if she shaved the neighbor’s cat to trim her dress, which befits her character.) Lighting is provided by stagehands holding common flashlights; all the better to focus on engagement and storytelling.
I will not recount the sprawling tale of Cymbeline, which isn’t even about that king so much as his feisty daughter, Imogen. A read through the dramaturgical notes provided on the website and via email is highly recommended for your enhanced enjoyment of the production. Even if you do not heed this advice, the cast will give you a helping hand in their concise introduction to the evening, which also sets proper expectations and tone.
Artistic Director/Director Stephen Burdman has wonderfully edited the dialogue and uses each space to full advantage. Fight scenes are amusingly choreographed by Sean Michael Chin and punctuated with Batman-like sound effects. Oft-tangled pun-filled lines are delivered with clarity and wit. Moments that could have been groan-inducing are transformed into delightful farce, as if we and the actors are together chuckling behind Shakespeare’s back. Evan Moore-Coll is a standout in his four roles including the juicy part of Cloten the clod. Also pivotal to success is Terrell Wheeler, who undergoes several hot changes between a kindly servant (Pisanio) and a powerful warrior (Caius Lucius). He makes an imposing contrast to the slight Nick Salamone as the easily manipulated Cymbeline. Holding the heart of the story as Imogen is an elegant and fiery Aziza Gharib, who also appears as Jupiter in one of the plot’s more outrageous moments. Brandon Burk, Christian Ryan, and Jenny Strassburg complete the strong company.
Attendance on the Circle Lawn in Carl Schurz (enter at 87th and East End Avenue) is limited to 200 people. Reservations are recommended in large part so you will receive helpful information including notice of a rain cancelation. If you do not regularly attend a yoga class, I recommend bringing a short beach chair. (Taller chairs are permitted, but you will be seated to the side.) The logistics are described well on the company’s website.
Above all, this entrance into N Y Classical’s line-up reminds us that sometimes Shakespeare can be FUN! The strangled twists of Cymbeline are in support of an all-is-well ending that is sorely needed at this time. Performances continue in Carl Schurz Park in Manhattan through Sunday, July 3, and then move to Brooklyn Commons Park at MetroTech from July 5 through 10. Tickets are FREE to encourage every theater goer with a pulse to come out and enjoy the show. Donations to support the professional actors are highly encouraged. Visit https://nyclassical.org/cymbeline for further information.