"Cymbeline," one of William Shakespeare's later and lesser-known romances, is a bit of a dichotomy.
It was originally considered a tragedy -which ends with the main character brought to ruin or left in extreme sorrow. Not so in "Cymbeline."
"You'd think it would belong to the comedies," says Murray Ross, artistic director of TheatreWorks and the show's director, "because it does have a very happy ending, but it has one of the longest winding roads to that happy conclusion of any Shakespeare play. There is a surprising amount of darkness, violence and dismemberment. Because of that, it's a play about resurrection, but somebody has to die before it's resurrected."
The show opens Thursday at Rock Ledge Ranch.
"It has, in recent years, become a popular challenge for adventurous directors," writes theater critic Myron Meisel on the website Hollywood Reporter.
Ross has had a yen to do the play for two decades.
"It's like discovering a new country or kingdom which you kind of didn't know existed and others didn't know, and you want to share it," he says.
Though popular in the 19th century, he says, it faded into obscurity in the 20th century. Ross thinks the tangled plot was "daunting to modern stagecraft and new theaters."
In "Cymbeline," Imogen, the daughter of British King Cymbeline, defies her father and marries Posthumous instead of her father's stepson. Posthumous is then exiled to Italy where he meets Iachimo, who believes all women are tainted and bets Posthumous he can seduce Imogen. A kaleidoscope of events is kick-started. There's cross-dressing, a queen with a poisonous potion, confused identities, war and more.
Those familiar with Shakespeare's work will notice a hefty dose of plot points similar to his other works, such as "King Lear," "Romeo and Juliet" and "As You Like It."
"We are in a culture now where we're kind of used to things moving quickly," says Ross. "We bounce from one YouTube episode to another, and in a couple of hours, we cover a ton of ground. And Shakespeare does that in this play.
"It's his fairy tale, and he's revisiting a lot of scenes and characters from his whole career, spinning them and throwing them in, but grounding it with fairy tale structure."
TheatreWorks' version employs eight actors. Most of them will double and even triple on roles, much like Shakespeare had his own actors do.
"There's a good princess and a wicked stepmother, and a kind of evil villain and a handsome prince," Ross says. "Those kinds of opposites happen all over the place, and invite doubling."
Susan Maris, a New York City actress, has coveted the role of Imogen for years. On theatrehistory.com, William Hazlitt writes that of all Shakespeare's women, she is "perhaps the most tender and the most artless."
"I'm learning lessons from her every day," Maris says. "She endures a lot and she's able to keep her eye on what she wants, which is to be with the man she loves and to be honest. Fidelity and faithfulnes is a huge part of the play. She operates without malice and manipulation."
"It's really a feast for all the senses and brain cells," Ross says. "There's a reason why Shakespeare is the most popular playwright in the world, and a reason he always appears in the summertime. With his expansiveness, richness, warmth, benevolence and excitement - it's a natural match. And our tent allows people to be outdoors, held cozily and protected, as they join in the world of the play."
Jennifer Mulson can be reached at 636-0270.
What: TheatreWorks' Shakespeare Festival
Playwright: William Shakespeare
Director: Murray Ross
Cast: Randy Moore, Susan Maris, Anthony Martinez, Tom Paradise, Nick Henderson, Joseph Discher, Karl Brevik, Erik Brevik
Running time: 2 hours and 45 minutes, including a 15-minute intermission
When: Opens 7:30 p.m. Aug. 1, runs 7:30 p.m. Tuesdays-Saturdays through Aug. 24
Where: Rock Ledge Ranch Historic Site, 3105 Gateway Road
Tickets: $35, $15 ages 15 and younger, free for University of Colorado at Colorado Springs students, $25 groups of 10 or more. No kids 4 and younger. Reservations suggested; 255-3232, theatreworkscs.org
Something else: The cast will perform pre-show contemporary music beginning at 6:45 p.m.
Another thing: There is also a Prologue lecture by John Douglas Thompson, Shakespearean actor, 2:30 p.m. Sunday, Centennial Auditorium, UCCS, 1420 Austin Bluffs Parkway. Also that day, a garden party at ForestEdge, 6 p.m. dinner, show, dessert and sonnets, $85.