By Jackson Riley
Strawdog's productions are always surprising in that, depending on the production team, the quality can span from community theatre to astounding, breathtaking masterpieces. Unfortunately their adaptation of Cymbeline, which continues their 29th season, is one of the laziest productions I've seen from the company. With an adaptation that slashes away the emotional core of the piece, yet still leaves the run-time at just under three hours, the company adds another production to the list of reasons why Shakespeare can be such a difficult sell.
Director Robert Kauzlaric stages the piece quite well in The Factory Theater's intimate space on Howard Street. The almost prop-less production is muddled by amateur costume designs from Brittany Dee Bodley, whose work is normally quite fantastic. The performers are often buried under extra layers that consist of hoods and fabrics repurposed from store-bought hoodies and sweatshirts. Bodley can be credited for her creativity, sure, but the end-result looks half-baked at best.
The energetic cast does its best to make the comedic moments of the play land, however the sudden turn toward drama in the latter half of the production is worthless when the emotional depth of the play has been reduced so heavily. The final battle would have been better off heard and not seen considering the lack of fighting skills displayed by the ensemble, and in such an intimate space, it's almost laughable to see the principals recycled as warriors and then immediately rush off to get back into their mainstay costume.
While some of the performances from the young and diverse cast are quite good, many are dull and barely scratch the surface of the material. Once again, I attribute this to the very flawed adaptation. This version of Cymbeline insists upon brisk pacing in order to consolidate the play, sacrificing story, emotion, and investment in the process.
Playing at the Factory Theater, 1623 W. Howard St., Chicago. Tickets are $30. For tickets and information, call OvationTix at 866-811-4111, or visit Strawdog.org.
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