‘shakespeare’s amazing cymbeline’

After you see “Shakespeare’s Amazing Cymbeline” at Portland Center Stage (and why wouldn’t you, if you have the means?), don’t bother pulling down that well-thumbed edition of The Oxford Shakespeare from the shelves to find out whether the original has a piano player in it. I already looked. It doesn’t.

But maybe it should. A narrator to keep all of the weird plot twists and characters straight isn’t a bad idea at all, and Chris Coleman’s old piano man, played by Michael G. Keck in this production, comes in handy when we start to lose track of the particulars and the point. Now, I might wish he was playing honky-tonk boogie woogie and blues instead of the melancholy chords he settled upon, but the guidance was appreciated.

Shakespeare composed “Cymbeline” toward the end of his writing days (though he wasn’t an OLD man when he wrote it — several years after the death of Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford had passed on to his eternal reward, by the way, but pace Oxfordians, this isn’t the place). And one way to look at it is as a scramble of various of his other plays.

Let’s see: “King Lear,” of course, which Coleman’s piano player references (a king out of control, stupidly punishing his loving daughter). “Romeo and Juliet” (potions that mimic death, a graveyard scene in which the heroine wakes next to her dead lover — or seems to), “As You Like It” (for its sylvan settings and corrupt court), “Othello” (an evil deceiver, some fake evidence), “Macbeth” (an ambitious wife who goes mad) and really we’re just getting started. You want improbable plot devices? This is an encyclopedia of them.

So yes, a narrator (all of whose lines are invented by Coleman) isn’t such a bad thing, because “Cymbeline” is a crazy play.


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