Summer, stars, swordfights, Shakespeare
There are a lot of outdoor activities that get students excited about an upcoming summer break — swimming, going to the beach, hiking and summery sports like volleyball and tennis. I’m definitely an odd one out when it comes to my favorite summer activity: watching Shakespeare under the stars. It doesn’t feel like summer has arrived yet if I haven’t found a local theatre troupe putting on one of the Bard’s plays in a park, field or open-air theater. Since I was taking classes here at Brandeis during the summer, I knew I had to make a trip out to Boston to see the Commonwealth Shakespeare Company’s performance on the Boston Common.
This summer, the play chosen by the CSC was Cymbeline, one of William Shakepeare’s less-known comedies. This fantastical dramedy follows the story of Imogen, a fictional medieval English princess and defiant daughter of King Cymbelline, who wishes to marry her true love, the low-born Posthumus. However, many players in Cymbeline’s court have ideas of their own for Imogen, and things get dicey when poison, disguise and false accusations are used by those who wish to keep couples and families apart. By the end, an entire Roman army — and even the gods themselves — come to England to set things right. The thought that crossed my mind while watching it was “Okay, there’s a reason this isn’t one of the works of Shakespeare we read in school.” It doesn’t have as memorable or loveable characters like Puck, Malvolio or Rosencrantz and Gildenstern. It doesn’t have any thesis-worthy soliloquies or monologues. However, Cymbeline has the Shakespearean integrity of any of his other plays, full of romance, cross-dressing, mistaken identity and daring swordfights. Underneath all the adventures are the universal themes of seeking one’s own destiny, being true to oneself and putting our trust in those we love. It was certainly a blast to watch on a blanket in the grass with many Bostonians as the sun set over the Boston Common.
The Commonwealth Shakespeare Company deserves credit for its creativity and attention to detail in this production. Putting on a play with such a large cast of characters, many of whom could seem interchangeable, they chose costume designs with a wide variety of textures, colors and even historical styles to help the audience differentiate between all the princes, soldiers, adventurers and villains. The multi-level set became palaces, wilderness and battleground through inventiveness of lighting and props. The actors were top-notch professionals, especially considering this was a free show, and their fight choreography was especially enjoyable to watch. I loved Nora Eschenheimer’s performance as the quintessential Shakespearean heroine, Imogen, who infused the character’s noble quest for love with modern notions of women’s liberation and autonomy. Eschenheimer is a graduate of the University of Rhode Island and has also appeared in Shakespeare productions in California and Hawaii.
Many young people find Shakespeare difficult to relate to or understand. However, when you see it as it was intended to be seen — in the open air, with people in the audience from all walks of life — you can get swept up in the drama, adventure and laughter and forget that you’re in the middle of an American metropolis. You could be in Elizabethan London, and somehow you’re able to follow the Middle English dialogue and jokes. So, if you’re on the East Coast next summer and are itching for some Shakespeare, maybe skip the hours-long lines of Manhattan’s Shakespeare in the Park and head up to Boston for the same level of professional theater.