Something magical happened to me in UNM’s Theatre X last weekend: I laughed aloud and often during one of William Shakespeare’s plays.
This is not to say that I think the great scribe is without humor. Puck’s rascality in A Midsummer Night’s Dream and the watchmen’s blunders in Much Ado About Nothing, for example, make me giggle when I read them. But something of Willy’s hilarity is typically lost for me when I see the plays acted. Maybe that’s because I’d never before seen Tricklock Company perform one of them.
Tricklock’s actors—under the guidance of visiting director Kathleen Weiss—present Shakespeare’s Cymbeline artfully. Their supreme physicality, organic line delivery and contemporary tones translate the play’s 17th-century English into a kind of modern dialogue. Without sacrificing the beauty of the language or marring the complexities of the storyline, the actors make Cymbeline accessible and exciting and truly funny.
We meet the cast in King Cymbeline’s British Court—a set of lovely simplicity, but unfortunately doused in two-tone gray paint. (If we can be trusted to imagine that three columns and a fountain constitute a palace, why can’t we be trusted to imagine that they’re stone or marble? Must every stage in Albuquerque be sponge-painted?)
Under the manipulative influence of his new and calculating Queen, King Cymbeline banishes his daughter Imogen’s husband, Posthumus, to the faraway Roman court. In Italy, Posthumus encounters Iachimo, a mischief-maker who argues that all women are fickle in love and easily coaxed into infidelity—an assertion, he wagers, he can prove with Posthumus’ beloved. So Iachimo travels confidently to Britain. But instead of winning the bet, he is staunchly rebuffed by the faithful Imogen. Refusing defeat, Iachimo hatches a plan involving a wooden trunk, stolen jewelry and the naked sleeping princess, returning to Rome with the evidence necessary to pretend victory. Unable to deny Iachimo’s “proof,” Posthumus orders Imogen’s death.
Tricklock’s actors—under the guidance of visiting director Kathleen Weiss—present Shakespeare’s Cymbeline artfully.
In true Shakespearean form, wars are waged, poisons consumed, disguises donned, woods traversed, heads removed, manipulations exposed, quirky mystics and long lost family members introduced. All in the second act. But in Cymbeline, unlike some of the playwright’s other works, the bedlam leaves minimal casualties and a happy resolution.
For all of these plot twists and turns, scholars and editors have at different times classified Cymbeline as tragedy, history, masque, romance and comedy. Yet Weiss and her cast seem to avoid making such distinctions; rather than forcing it to be one or the other, they treat the play as a synthesis, attending to its natural subtleties. In so doing, they illuminate the play’s wry appeal. Further, the pacing of Tricklock’s performance is hurried—but not at all rushed—the whirlwind of which contributes to the actors’ collective force.
On the night I attended, only about half of the seats in the theater were filled. This may have been because of that night’s proximity to Thanksgiving. But Tricklock deserves a full house.
Every cast member is memorable in one way or another, but certain performances are particularly clear in retrospect. Juli Hendren as Imogen and Dodie Montgomery as the Queen (and the second act, following the Queen’s death and subsequent disappearance from the stage, as Belarius) speak Shakespeare as intuitively as they might their everyday parlance; they are comfortable with the dialect and confident in their character presentations. Though the volume of his voice is occasionally unsettling, Kevin R. Elder navigates King Cymbeline’s evolution adeptly, from manipulated pawn to devastated husband/father to sage and forgiving monarch.
Of particular note are Samuel Taylor as Iachimo and Alex Knight as Cloten, the Queen’s cloddish son. Taylor portrays Iachimo’s arrogant debauchery and eventual remorse with a vibrancy that deeply endears you to the character, despite the abhorrence of his actions. Knight—well, he is completely captivating. The audience laughed almost as often as I did throughout the play, and the vast majority of these outbursts were prompted by Knight. With a sharp sense of balance, he weighs Cloten’s doltishness against his malevolence; the result is comedic genius.
On the night I attended, only about half of the seats in the theater were filled. This may have been because of that night’s proximity to Thanksgiving. But Tricklock deserves a full house. Please give them one this weekend, before Cymbeline’s run closes on Sunday.