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In 'Cymbeline,' the plot's the thing

FictionMegan MullallyTerry GilliamKeith MitchellNick OffermanGil Cates

One of Los Angeles' most respected directors meets one of Shakespeare’s least produced plays as Evidence Room founder Bart DeLorenzo takes on the Bard's plot-dizzy, globe-hopping "Cymbeline," at A Noise Within in Pasadena.

The production, running through Nov. 18, marks only the second time in 21 years that ANW, L.A.’s leading classics-centered repertory company, has staged “Cymbeline.” (The company’s last production of this later work in the Shakespeare canon was part of its 1999-2000 season at the Luckman Fine Arts Complex in Los Angeles.)

It will be a first for director DeLorenzo, who has had “Cymbeline” on his bucket list for many years.

“I’ve always been intrigued by it,” he said. “I have a sort of peculiar interest in less familiar stories by great writers. I think it’s the thrill of introducing what I think is a masterpiece to people who aren’t familiar with it.”

More familiar Shakespearean works, such as “Hamlet” or “Macbeth” come with expectations “no matter how much you enjoy them,” DeLorenzo said. “With a play like ‘Cymbeline,’ no one is experienced enough to get ahead of the plot of it.”

And what a plot it is. In a corrupt British court, Princess Imogen marries her childhood sweetheart against the king’s wishes. Her husband is banished, “and then,” DeLorenzo said, “this big adventure begins.” In Italy, Imogen’s husband is tricked into “making a very dangerous bet with horrible consequences,” war with Rome looms, Imogen adopts male disguise and in the woods of Wales, two young men are growing up with the feeling that they were not meant for the world of caves, but for the world of the royal court … and perhaps they are right about that,” DeLorenzo said.

Also in Shakespeare’s mix: the god Jupiter, an evil stepmother, poison and wolves. Just as tragedy seems certain, the play builds to a reunion of lovers and family “and ends with what is probably the single happiest scene in all of Shakespeare,” DeLorenzo said.

“In my opinion, ‘Cymbeline’ may be Shakespeare’s most bravura piece. It’s as if he is trying to reintroduce characters and situations from ‘King Lear’ and ‘Othello’ and ‘As You Like It.’ There’s ‘Two Gentlemen of Verona’ in it. It has a ‘Henry V’ moment, a ‘Winter’s Tale’ moment. But, my, it’s a fun story,” DeLorenzo said. “It just goes everywhere. All of these crazy dramatic scenes are juxtaposed against these hilarious scenes and other scenes walk a strange line between the two.”

To honor these elements of past Shakespeare works and “Cymbeline’s” “striking theatricality,” DeLorenzo said, his production is designed to evoke through set and costumes the theater of Shakespeare’s imagination.

The set, designed by Keith Mitchell, pays tribute to the history of Shakespeare productions from the time of the Globe Theatre forward, he explained, by giving audiences a sense of classic 17th to 19th century scenery.

“We’re looking at that sort of crazy Terry Gilliam theatricality, but without his budget,” DeLorenzo said. Costumes, by designer Angela Balogh Calin, will do the same. Because “Cymbeline” juxtaposes Augustan Rome with Renaissance Florence and the Wales of Shakespeare’s time, “we have decided to mix the worlds of the costumes in the same way that Shakespeare seems to be mixing periods of history,” DeLorenzo noted. “It’s fun to have a toga in a scene with a Renaissance doublet.

“And,” he added, “there are also beautiful songs in the play, and a fantastic sword fight.”

ANW and DeLorenzo, the founder of Los Angeles’ cutting-edge Evidence Room theater company and now an in-demand freelance director at theaters large and small, have been on each other’s radar for some time, said Geoff Elliott, who shares the title of ANW artistic director with his wife, Julia Rodriguez-Elliott. “We were fortunate to find this window of time when he was available.”

DeLorenzo “is a great match for the play,” said Rodriguez-Elliott, “in terms of the theatricality of his work and the sense of humor that the play can have about itself.”

“It works almost on the level of dreams,” Elliott said of “Cymbeline.” “It has a kind of subconscious dream-like quality to it, along with a fairy tale quality that is very interesting and different.”

DeLorenzo will have a few weeks off after “Cymbeline’s” run and then return to a project that has been in the works for the last year: “Coney Island Christmas,” a holiday play by Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Donald Margulies (“Dinner With Friends,” “Sight Unseen”), commissioned by Gil Cates, the late founder and producing director of the Geffen Playhouse.

“We’ve done a few workshops and we’re almost finished casting it,” DeLorenzo said. Based on “The Loudest Voice,” a short story by Grace Paley, the new play takes place in Coney Island, Brooklyn, in the 1930s and will open at the Geffen in November.

“It’s a celebration of Christmas as a peculiarly American holiday. One fun thing about it,” DeLorenzo said, “is that I get to direct two children’s pageants in the play. It’s really a beautiful open-hearted Christmas story.”

Following the Margulies play, DeLorenzo is planning to team up again with stage and screen’s Megan Mullally and her husband and “Smashed” co-star Nick Offerman (“Parks and Recreation”) in the spring for a two-character play at the Odyssey Theatre Ensemble, where De Lorenzo and Mullally did Adam Bock’s “The Receptionist” in 2009.

Meanwhile, “Cymbeline,” part of Shakespeare for a New Generation, a national program of the National Endowment for the Arts in partnership with Arts Midwest, will also be performed for Los Angeles high school and middle school students.

“We are working very hard to make sure the story is crystal clear,” DeLorenzo said. “The plot is thrilling and I want to make sure that comes through for everybody.”

LYNNE HEFFLEY writes about theater and culture for Marquee.

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"Cymbeline"

Where: A Noise Within, 3352 East Foothill Blvd., Pasadena

When: Repertory schedule: 2 p.m. Sept. 30, Nov. 4 and Nov. 18; 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday, Oct 6, Nov. 10 and Nov. 18; 2 and 7 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 7; 8 p.m. Oct. 25-26, Nov. 3 and Nov. 16. Ends Nov. 18. $40 to $52

Contact: (626) 356-3100, anoisewithin.org

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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FictionMegan MullallyTerry GilliamKeith MitchellNick OffermanGil Cates
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