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2017 Philadelphia Fringe Festival Review: ‘Cymbeline’ by Revolution Shakespeare at Hawthorne Park

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For its fourth annual Fringe offering, Revolution Shakespeare returns to South Philadelphia’s Hawthorne Park with another free outdoor selection from the Bard’s canon. This year’s production (and the company’s best yet!) is Cymbeline, a rarely-seen work first presented in 1611, inspired by a tale from the history of ancient Britain and Rome, and subsequently classified as both a romance and a comedy. Staged in the round, and directed with the utmost clarity, focus, and vitality by Jared Michael Delaney (his fast pace, astute cuts, and masterful blocking keep the action moving and make it readily legible from all vantage points), a small cast of seven skillfully enacts the complex story of love and war, deception and innocence, ambition and jealousy, mistaken identity and disguise, and conflict and reconciliation between cultures, classes, and kin, in the self-referencing context of a troupe of actors who have come to the park to put on a show.

The ensemble. Photo by Daniel Kontz.

The ensemble. Photo by Daniel Kontz.

Assuming multiple roles and/or guises in the challenging narrative, the fine ensemble – RevShakes company member Mitchell Bloom and Founding Artistic Director Griffin Stanton-Ameisen, along with Newton Buchanan, Izzy Castaldi, Sabrina Profitt, James Tolbert III, and Twoey Truong – delivers both the drama and humor inherent in Shakespeare’s theme, captures the gravitas, folly, and treachery of his characters, and displays a fluent ease and understanding of the language (aided by Krista Apple’s expert text coaching). Their consistently well-defined portrayals of the distinctive personalities eliminate any possibility of confusion on the part of the audience, with their frequent changes of character visually signaled by the quick donning of capes, robes, vests, berets, and other accessories over their matching old-style shirts, trousers, and suspenders (historicizing costumes by Natalia de la Torre). Among the highlights are Profitt’s impeccable world-class performances as the diabolical Queen and the wrongfully-banished Belarius, and Stanton-Ameisen’s characterizations of the antithetical suitors Cloten (the foolish and arrogant son of the Queen) and Posthumus (a more refined and gentlemanly orphan who lacks the pedigree necessary to propagate the royal bloodline). The show’s simple design – using a few telling props, and a circle of wooden benches and travel trunks (production design by Doug Greene), ground lights and lamp-posts (lighting by Andrew Cowles), which delineate and illuminate the playing area – smartly puts our attention on Shakespeare’s words and feelings in this actor-driven production. Those are enhanced by Daniel Ison’s well-conceived sound (with clear sound engineering by Brad Pouliot) and imaginative fight choreography by Sean Bradley.

The first-rate direction, outstanding acting, and efficient design of Revolution Shakespeare’s Cymbeline make it fully comprehensible and engaging for everyone, whether or not you’re familiar with the intricate story and its numerous characters. Audiences are invited to bring their own blankets or chairs for seating on the grass; you can also bring some extra cash to make a small (or large!) voluntary donation in the plastic pumpkin baskets to show your appreciation and support of this terrific fall production, and to help the company to continue to offer free Shakespeare to the public.

Running Time: Approximately one hour and 50 minutes, without intermission.

Graphic design by Daniel Kontz.

Graphic design by Daniel Kontz.

Cymbeline plays through Saturday, September 30, 2017, at Revolution Shakespeare, performing at Hawthorne Park – 12th and Catharine Streets, Philadelphia, PA. Tickets are not required for this free production; for more information, call the Fringe box office at (215) 413-9006, or go online.

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