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Shakespeare’s Fantasy Epic

Theater Preview

Mar. 19, 2008
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As Milwaukee Shakespeare makes its way off the stage at the end of the 2007-’08 season, the company is taking on one of the Bard’s more challenging plays, Cymbeline. The play, which opens March 22, can be difficult to define in terms of Shakespeare’s other work. Some historians have looked at the convoluted nature of the plot and come to the conclusion that Shakespeare merely wrote it to amuse himself. The story involves a secret marriage between Posthumus, a man of low birth, and Imogen, the daughter of the king of England. A Roman soldier makes a bet with Posthumus that he can get Imogen to commit adultery. Things get a little complicated from there.

The story can take on the dream-like feel of a fantasy epic, and it’s this feel that informs Milwaukee Shakespeare’s production. “I’ve never thought of it as an outright comedy,” says director Jeffrey Sichel. “I think of it as a romance with a wide range of comedic elements, from the wittiest of verbal sorties to the basest of physical lazzi.”

The Washington, D.C.-based director is paired with D.C.-based designer Misha Kachman, who created both the set and costuming for the production. Sichel and Kachman have worked with the tiny space at the Broadway Theatre Center’s Studio Theatre to develop an environment that will immerse audiences in a fantastic space for the duration of the play. Sichel talks of using a combination of large-scale puppetry and sound design to “achieve something otherworldly yet tangible.”

He says that watching a play is too often a passive experience. “In all that we do in this production, we invite the audience to enter into an installation that is Cymbeline rather then to sit and watch a show,” he adds. The Russian-born Kachman performed the delicate job of developing the visual particulars of the production. In a space as small as the Studio Theatre, that means choosing the right elements to define the space rather than merely building scenery in an effort to focus the actor-audience relationship. Kachman’s previous work has shown a powerful voice, one that has drawn high praise. Over the course of the past several years, his work has been featured in solo exhibitions at galleries in Russia, France and England.

With Kachman’s design covering both the space and the actors, the show will be akin to drifting through the canvas of one of his paintings. Sichel comes to Milwaukee Shakespeare having worked extensively in opera as both a director and librettist. Sichel’s experience in working with a fixed score and juggling all the different elements of an opera should give this production an interesting perspective.

Opera, he says, is uniquely related to working with Shakespearean text. “It’s all about the poetry,” he says.

Milwaukee Shakespeare’s production of Cymbeline closes April 20.


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