It just wouldn't be Shakespeare without a little sexual subterfuge. Though it's one of his lesser-known tales, Cymbeline employs many of the playwright's favorite plot devices—mistaken identity, forbidden love, girls disguised as boys, scheming queens, betrayal, beheadings, etc.
But Portland Center Stage's new production, Shakespeare's Amazing Cymbeline, presents a show stripped down to its barest elements with a cast of only six actors performing on the sparsest of sets. In addition to the minimalism, director Chris Coleman's adaptation includes a third-party narrator on the piano (Michael G. Keck). A congenial fellow reminiscent of Sam in Casablanca, the narrator presents Cymbeline through his own eyes, serving both to clarify the more complex scenes and offer his interpretation of the story's theme of love betrayed.
King Cymbeline (Scott Coopwood) discovers his daughter, Imogen (Kelley Curran), has secretly wed a man unworthy of the court, Posthumous (Ryan McCarthy), whom he casts away to Rome. A wily Roman wagers Posthumous that he can bed the chaste Imogen, who is despondent at the loss of her lover and the sleazy proposals of her throne-seeking stepbrother. After being falsely accused of adultery, Imogen flees, leaving her father with no heir apparent (his two sons were kidnapped at birth 20 years earlier, you see) as his evil wife ails and a war with Rome trudges closer.
Shakespeare's typically convoluted plot nevertheless sparkles to life in the hands of a truly adept cast, several of whom portray up to five different characters. But it is Curran in the role of Imogen who, despite bearing an uncanny resemblance to Miley Cyrus, performs as if the role was written for her. She steals scenes even when not speaking.
For those unfamiliar with the story of Cymbeline, it proves exciting to watch a play by Shakespeare where the ending is unknown. Though we've seen these themes many times before, Coleman's adaptation feels lively as the narrator engages the audience, urging it to examine not only what the play means, but why it is important.