by Clinton Campbell

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Monday July 29, 2019

Nora Eschenheimer and Jesse Hinson in the CSC production of "Cymbeline," through August 4 on the Boston Common
Nora Eschenheimer and Jesse Hinson in the CSC production of "Cymbeline," through August 4 on the Boston Common  (Source:Evgenia Eliseeva)

Commonwealth Shakespeare Company is presenting their first production of one of Shakespeare's last plays, "Cymbeline," for this year's Free Shakespeare on the Common.

Originally listed as a tragedy in his First Folio, it has come to be classified as one of his romances. These are complicated and fantastical works that often also require his most adventurous special effects (e.g. "The Tempest" or "The Winter's Tale")

"Cymbeline" is no exception. The plot includes kidnapped princes, a banished husband, a deceitful queen, boorish and predatory men, a dream visitation by the god Jupiter, settings in England, Italy, and Wales, as well as a war between England and Rome.

Those unfamiliar with the play will do well to study the plot synopsis.

That said, director Fred Sullivan Jr. has produced a remarkably clear and straightforward production that, for all its complications, comes across as a strong and unified whole.

The highlight of the show is Nora Eschenheimer as Imogen, daughter to King Cymbeline. She is a smart, witty, and strong heroine. Ms. Eschenheimer's performance is a pure delight. She is relatable and genuine with pitch-perfect comic timing and an emotional depth that creates a totally engrossing performance.

Kelby T. Atkin as Imogen's doltish stepbrother is equally enjoyable in his shear tone-deafness about anything decent or acceptable. He is all ego; and his crassness brings to mind hints of a certain Washington, DC resident.

A total surprise in what could easily be a throw-away role is Mihir Kumar as the doctor. His poise and affectation are at once slightly creepy, totally unexpected, and entirely hilarious.

The one slightly off-putting performance is provided by Jesse Hinson as the rogue Iachimo, who tries to seduce Imogen and destroy her honor. He is by design a lecherous character, but his comedic style steers dangerously close to scenery-chewing.

The remainder of the cast all provides solid and thoughtful performances. Each individual's clarity of intent is what allows such a convoluted plot to remain understandable. This is no small feat for such a large cast.

It is unclear what is trying to be communicated through the sets and costumes. Jessica Hill and Patrick Lynch's set seems to represent an attic, while Elisabetta Polito's costumes cover multiple periods from pre-historic Celts to Medieval knights to Word War I doughboys. What this cornucopia of styles is trying to communicate or how it ties to the show are entirely unclear.

Despite this visual disconnect, Mr. Sullivan has succeeded in creating a tight and enjoyable production of a rarely produced play.

CSC's Shakespeare in the Park always seems to do something unexpected; "Cymbeline" is no exception. With this being their 24th year, it is exciting to think about what their silver anniversary next year will bring.

Remaining performances of Commonwealth Shakespeare Company's "Cymbeline" at the Parkman Bandstand on the Boston Common are Tuesday, July 30 — Sunday, August 4. Tuesday — Friday at 8 pm; Saturday at 3 and 8 pm; Sunday at 7 pm. Admission is free. For more info visit the Commonwealth Shakespeare Company website.