The San Francisco Shakespeare Festival brings the last leg of its 29th season to the Parade Ground Lawn of the Presidio this month with a solidly entertaining production of “Cymbeline.”
One of the Bard’s less-often-produced titles, it is listed as a tragedy, though it is really more of a romance. No one dies except the villains and it has a generally happy ending with lovers and families reunited.
Princess Innogen, King Cymbeline’s daughter, has married for love rather than politics. She incurs her father’s wrath and that of her stepmother the queen, who would like to consolidate power by marrying Innogen to her son Cloten.
Posthumus, Innogen’s husband, is banished and retreats to Rome, where Iachimo baits him with a bet that he can breach Innogen’s fidelity.
All of the usual Shakespearean devices are deployed. Women dress in men’s clothes and are suddenly unrecognized by their husbands or fathers. People die only to miraculously recover. Twisted messages are acted upon as egregiously dire truths and hidden identities resolve major plot issues.
For the uninitiated, the show, which is performed outdoors for free, offers a great opportunity to experience Shakespeare. You can picnic and relax on the grass and absorb the lush, lyrical text. Do bring a blanket, food and beverage, and expect a pitch for donations at the end.
For the Bard fan, the production is a thorough treat that lags only during the play’s rather disconnected dream sequence in Act 2 and a somewhat extraneous plot summary recited at the end.
Kenneth Kelleher expertly directs an exceptional ensemble, led by Emily Jordan as a passionate and vibrant Innogen, who exhibits all the wide-eyed wonder of love but never devolves into silliness. She’s well paired with the amazingly versatile Craig Marker as Posthumus, who is virile and confident without seeming pompous.
As Iachimo, his Roman challenger, Brian Herndon segues perfectly from sly manipulation to honor in defeat. Caitlyn Louchard is charming and true in the trouser role of servant Pisanio, and Sharon Robinson is a deliciously wicked stepmother as the queen, opposite a somewhat unsympathetic Chris Ayles as Cymbeline.
The other excellent contributors to the company are Julian López-Morillas, Galen Murphy-Hoffman and Carl Hovick-Thomas, who essay a variety of roles including plot-critical characters in Act 2.
The simple and versatile set by Guilio Perrone is expertly dressed to create both the period and specific locations with a minimum of fuss. Alexae Visel has designed a rich and fanciful collection of costumes, particularly in the queen’s bustle and glove combination.
Presented by Free Shakespeare in the Park
Where: Parade Ground Lawn, between Graham Street and Keyes Avenue, the Presidio, San Francisco
When: 7:30 p.m. Saturdays; 2:30 p.m. Sundays; closes Sept. 25