Thursday, May 14, 2009

Richmond Shakespeare Upstages the Staged Reading

My last experience with a “staged reading” was uncountable years ago and involved high stools, somber lighting and forced gaiety. But I couldn’t not go to Cymbeline, performed Tuesday night by Richmond Shakespeare as a staged reading directed by David White. (Cymbeline, one of Shakespeare’s later romances, was originally slated as the last play of the indoor season, but was replaced by A Midsummer Night’s Dream. I groused about the switch here.)

As a member of POEM, I was eager to see Cymbeline because I had never read the play or seen it performed. Among other things, I wanted to test my perceptive powers: could I really follow Shakespearean English without having read the play?

Of course, this depends greatly upon the actors. And in this case, the actors were stellar.

I was flat-out impressed by how, using pretty much only their voices and faces, they transformed a bare stage into a coherent, captivating world. I especially liked Aly Wepplo’s Imogen, the heroine—played with just the right combination of feisty and sweet. David Janeski as Imogen’s beloved, Posthumus, was earnest but not uptight. And holy smokes-- Vicki McLeod as the evil stepmother Queen! I was actually glad she wasn’t in full-fledged production mode—she was so devious, I think a costume and set would have merely been encumbrances.

My comprehension was also aided by a few humorous costume props and a larger cast than usual, which saved me the effort of distinguishing among characters played by the same people.

The cast used music stands to rest their script folders on, and most of the time, this was done either discreetly or the stands were incorporated into the action or set. However, I wish a few of the actors had been directed to keep their stands either above the navel or below the nipples, because watching someone talk to the floor is no fun, and neither is not being able to see their mouths.

But that’s a minor point. The major point is that Richmond Shakespeare proves that “staged readings” are not snoozers. (Even if someone had wanted to fall asleep, he couldn’t have dozed off with all the noise of audience laughter.) So when you see the next one on the RS schedule—it’s going to be a regular feature next year when they move into CenterStage—you shouldn’t hesitate to get a ticket.