Helen Roundhill rehearses her role in Shakespeare’s “Cymbeline.” Scot Whitney Courtesy photo
Helen Roundhill rehearses her role in Shakespeare’s “Cymbeline.” Scot Whitney Courtesy photo

Entertainment

Harlequin’s ‘Cymbeline’ is ‘Shakespeare with a robot’

By Molly Gilmore

Special to The Olympian

September 29, 2017 07:20 AM

Snow White meets sci-fi in Harlequin Productions’ next show, a dramatic fantasy set in a post-apocalyptic future.

This action-packed play, surreal and even a bit strange, is William Shakespeare’s “Cymbeline,” one of the bard’s less-produced plays.

“It’s Shakespeare with a robot,” said Russ Holm, who plays the titular monarch.

“I call it Shakespeare’s greatest hits meets Snow White and the rustic mountaineers,” said director Scot Whitney. “There are clear echoes of ‘Romeo and Juliet’ and ‘As You Like It’ and ‘Othello’ and ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ and ‘Pericles’ and ‘The Winter’s Tale.’ And there’s a huge amount of Snow White in the story.”

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King Cymbeline’s second wife (Jessica Weaver) is a prototypical evil queen with a poisonous plot against his daughter, Imogen (Helen Roundhill), who is as beautiful and virtuous as any Disney princess. Imogen escapes death by taking up residence with a group of woodsmen.

“It’s particularly closely aligned with ‘Snow White and the Seven Dwarves,’ the Disney movie version,” Whitney, who is Harlequin’s managing artistic director, said in a recent phone interview. “It’s crazy how many elements are very similar.”

And if there aren’t any animals that help with the housework, there’s that robot — Whitney’s take on the character Pisanio (Christian Doyle), a servant who does what’s best for his masters rather than doing what he’s told.

“He’s a moral robot,” the director said. “This one character never loses sight of what is right and what needs to be done. He eschews the gossip and lies that are getting in the way of everyone else.”

It was Linda Whitney, Scot’s wife and Harlequin’s artistic director, who came up with the robot idea back in 1994, the first time the company produced “Cymbeline.”

When he decided to produce the show again this season, Scot Whitney thought he’d take a different approach. “But as I started studying the play again, it quickly became clear that this is my way through this chaotic mess of a story,” he said.

Even the robot’s steampunk-style exterior hasn’t changed much: Costume designer Monique Anderson, who created the first Pisanio-bot, returned to make a similar style using new and improved materials.

Also back from the first “Cymbeline” is Holm, who played a small role back then.

In a recent phone interview, Holm said he’s thrilled to be doing the show again.

“I’m having a lot of fun with it,” he said. “It encompasses a lot of different genres: It has comedy; it has tragedy; it’s a romance; it’s sort of historical. It kind of encompasses everything.”

“The play was an experiment, or a series of experiments,” Whitney said. “Shakespeare was taking this old-fashioned style of play, with all these stock characters and all these crazy adventures, and trying to develop a new style of theater.”

The director uses the word “crazy” a lot when he’s taking about “Cymbeline,” and said he’s trimmed a lot of strange scenes — including an extended dream sequence and the appearance of Jupiter on a golden eagle.

Yet he also says it’s one of his favorite Shakespeare plays.

“I see a story in here that is really fun and exciting and preposterous,” he said.

‘Cymbeline’

What: Harlequin Productions presents Shakespeare’s rarely produced fantastical romance, set in a post-apocalyptic future.

When: 8 p.m. Oct. 5-7, 11-14, 19-21 and 26-28; 2 p.m. Oct. 8, 15 and 22

Where: State Theater, 202 Fourth Ave. E., Olympia

Tickets: $34 general admission, $31 for seniors and military, $20 for students and youth; for the Oct. 11 show, pay what you can.

More information: 360-786- 0151, harlequinproductions.org