Fiasco Theater is a small, not-for-profit theater company in New York City, formed in 2007 by graduates of the Brown University/Trinity Repertory Consortium MFA Acting program. They espouse a minimalist approach to production. Per their website: "We believe the performer, the text and the audience are the only elements required to make great theater." The name Fiasco was chosen "because only when artists are brave enough to risk a fiasco can they create the possibility of something special."
The performance of Cymbeline was light-hearted, but not a send-up. Nor, despite the physical cast of six, was the story significantly cut down as with "reduced Shakespeare," although some text was edited in order to fit into the two hour timeframe.
Based upon the "history" of the real-life British monarch Cunobelinus as taken from Geoffrey of Monmouth, with a sub-plot from Bocaccio grafted on, the lot seems to be Shakespeare trotting out all his reliable bits. There is the pigheaded Lear-like King, a wicked and ambitious Queen, a secret marriage and a death-simultating potion (Romeo and Juliet), a wager over a wife's fidelity (Merchant of Venice), a stolen love-token and a jealous husband's intent to murder his wife (Othello), a woman disguised as a man (several), an unwanted, doltish suitor (ditto), missing heirs, and deathbed revelations.
The members of the Fiasco troupe manage all this melodrama quite handily with their cast of six, and a mostly bare stage using a secially constructed convertible trunk as a setpiece.
Jessie Austrian is one of Fiasco's co-artistic directors and, in the central role of Imogen, Cymbeline's daughter, the only one of the cast who does not do multiple parts. Noah Brody, the other co-artistic director, played her husband Posthumus and a Roman Captain. Paul L. Coffey was much of the supporting cast, as Pisanio the loyal servant, Philario, Posthumus' Roman friend, Caius Lucius, the Roman envoy, and Guderius, one of the missing heirs. Justin Blanchard played the treacherous Iachimo and the other heir, Arivagus. Patrick Mulryan had the actually rather small part of Cymbeline, but also most of the comedy as the odius suitor Cloten, and as Doctor Cornelius. Emily Young had two juicy roles, as Cymbeline's scheming Queen, and "Beliaria", the exiled noble who stole, then raised, Cymbeline's sons.
It's not enough for six actors to play fourteen roles, they also sang, played instruments, and did all the prop and setting changes. The musical interludes were quite enjoyable: in one, the whole cast sang a Rennaisance style septet, whereas Coton had a '50's style ballad, and the "Welsh mountaineers" had a couple of Appalachian type songs.
All the players are very experienced actors, and it showed well in their ability to shift scenes and characters seamlessly yet make it all clear to the audience who was whom when. I really enjoyed this performance, and would make it a point to see Fiasco if they come to town again.
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