by Winona Post Editor-in-chief Sarah Squires
You know, if someone told me I had to marry my step-brother, I don’t think I would take it all that well. And if that step-brother was a pompous idiot, and the edict were coming through my father because of my evil step-mother, it would probably make my resistance all the more strong, whether Dad were king or not. But if you add that I was already married to my childhood sweetheart, and Dad was going to banish him to another country in order to force said annoying step-brother to my side, well, then we’d really have a problem.
I’m pretty good at protesting the unjust, but I doubt that, even if faced with this scenario in real life, I could have given it the emotional justice provided by Anique Clements as Imogen in Great River Shakespeare Festival’s (GRSF) production of “Cymbeline.” She begs. She reasons. She plots. All within the first few moments of this romantic, comedic, twisted tale, Clements is a force of nimble energy as she battles her tragic sentence, whirling between her father and her lover, between lamenting and fighting.
As always, this cast was a mix of actors I’ve seen and loved before and some newer faces who really took me by surprise. I told my boyfriend Justin about how much I love Tarah Flanagan and Benjamin Boucvalt and Michael Fitzpatrick before the show, then ticked off the list of those who I hadn’t seen on stage as much before. We were both so impressed, in talking afterward, how it was hard to choose our favorite actor, mainly because everyone truly delivered.
“Cymbeline” includes a relatively small cast, with most actors playing more than one role. Most notably, Imogen’s real love and husband is performed by Alex Givens, and he also plays the energetic, but ego-centric, clumsy, and stupid step-brother, Cloten. It is not easy to play two main characters as an actor, and oftentimes, productions will rely on a very obvious costume piece to help distinguish — a brightly colored scarf, or wig or dress. But Givens’ performance didn’t need that kind of crutch; in fact, he was actually clad in the other character’s clothes during much of the play, and there was never a doubt in any scene which man he was playing. His acting stood out as some of the best professional work I’ve seen with this company, and I hope GRSF fights to keep him for years to come. (He started as an apprentice and this is his fourth year, and he’s also in “Macbeth,” so make sure that’s one on your list not to miss.)
You know, if I were a doctor who was forced to make a poison for an evil queen, but she assured me she was just going to experiment on vermin, I’d probably think twice. Or maybe three or four times, honestly, because I like animals. But again, even in real life, I’d probably not be as sly and convincing as De’Onna Prince, who played this role and also that of Roman military leader Caius Lucius. She was impeccable on the stage, and even though her characters didn’t include much comedy in the script, she was the one who had me actually (we all lie about this with our LOLs) laughing out loud with her flip of it. I hope the future of GRSF includes her for years, too.
“Cymbeline” isn’t one of Shakespeare’s more famous plays, and I had not seen it before. I don’t think I read it, either, although I did have to take more than one class in college on the author and have read many of his works. The thing about Shakespeare is that reading it is not exactly the most palatable thing for your average modern English speaker/reader. I never really liked reading it for class, and it took me years to understand and appreciate what a different world it is to see it performed. If you have experts who have dissected the language, who really understand it, and professional actors who do too, they can make something that seems so obscure on the written page come to life in ways that are unimaginable in your dusty Shakespearean English class. If I could take my college self with a time machine to this show, I would love to see young Sarah react, fall in love, and completely change her mind about what Shakespeare is and means.
So here’s a challenge to you. It reminds me of a column I wrote years ago about a Mid West Music Fest beer tasting event. I don’t like beer, usually, so I told you all about that, and about how it would be easier to find ones you liked if you were able to just try some samples, rather than sifting through entire beers you didn’t like. Then I volunteered to work the front door, and I heard quite a few of you friends talking about that being the reason you were there. To try something you didn’t think you liked, but thought you might if you had the right chance.
If you think you don’t like Shakespeare, then you are like me back before that time machine (and man, back then, I thought I was right about everything). If you haven’t given it a try, now is your chance! And if you are as stubborn as I wish I could say I never was, you can also go to see “No Child” or “White Rabbit Red Rabbit” or “Servant of Two Masters,” and maybe you’ll rub elbows with a bunch of people in the lobby, who just watched “Cymbeline,” or “Macbeth,” who are as eager to tell you as I am: This is something you don’t want to miss.
Meet me on this challenge. Tuesdays are only $12 a seat, and other days are only a few dollars more. Go to GRSF.org, and meet me there. I promise, if you’ve never experienced this magic, and you rise to this challenge, next year you’ll be picking up all your friends to show them this festival gem, too.