Cymbeline is one of those seldom-produced Shakespeare plays we English-major types read in college but rarely if ever get the opportunity to see. Frog and Peach offers New York audiences a remedy with their new production at the West End Theatre. I saw an early preview that was retroactively downgraded to an open dress, so I’ll pass over the rough edges and simply report that it is a strong, straight-ahead piece of theater.
The very talented and notably attractive duo of Ross Beshear and Rosa Valenze Gilmore do excellent work as the hero (Posthumous) and heroine (Imogen), whose star-crossed love is beset with obstacles too strange and numerous to go into. The story features potions, disguises, swordplay, a decapitation, a supernatural visitation, and politics aplenty—pretty much the whole Shakespearean bag of tricks—and it boasts one of Shakespeare’s most entertaining servant characters, Pisanio, played with delightfully engaging squirminess by Kevin G. Shinnick, as well as one of the Bard’s most entertainingly arrogant pigs, Cloten, embodied with hilarious mock-gravity by Jonathan Marballi.
Aside from one major but cleverly managed gender change (which gives a plum role to one of the company’s founding members, Karen Lynn Gorney of Saturday Night Fever fame), this Cymbeline appears essentially as you will read it in your Complete Works, and while the play was popular in its time, it’s somewhat problematic for modern audiences. It reads and plays like a tragedy through much of its length, but ends like a romance, leaving us a little unsure of what we’re meant to feel along the way. And viewers unfamiliar with the play might have some trouble following the connections among some of the characters, at least until the rather painfully long wrap-up scene. But the Frog and Peach players make it a lively and entertaining ride. Well directed by Lynnea Benson, it runs through Oct. 31 at the West End Theatre in the Church of St. Paul and St. Andrew on the Upper West Side.