The last time I reviewed a stage production of William Shakespeare's "Cymbeline," it was in September 2007 for a fantastic run at Chicago Shakespeare Theater.
It's tough to compete with this Navy Pier space dedicated to keeping Shakespeare's great works in the stage spotlight for the appreciation and entertainment of future generations.
However, First Folio Theatre at Mayslake Peabody Estate, 31st St. and Rt. 83 in Oakbrook Terrace, Ill., is able to be a formidable rival for staging Shakespeare works with the theater company's annual summer production run offered outside and under the stars, just as these larger than life stories were presented centuries ago.
For 2013, it's a telling of "Cymbeline" that First Folio audiences are treated to, told in a delightfully twisted telling as only First Folio could dream-up and devise.
It's the world premiere run of "Shakespeare's Cymbeline: A Folk Tale with Music," now running just until July 21.
For this version of the timeless Shakespearean folk, it's been updated with a new setting circa Civil War Appalachia Mountains and includes 10 original songs featuring beautiful bluegrass melodies and a cast with a talent for talking in twangs.
I saw it under the beautiful bright full moon Saturday night and couldn't have been more impressed by the clever and entertaining adaption, sure to capture the hearts and minds of audiences of all ages. Think of it as what you might expect if you were to watch a Shakespeare play performed at Dollywood or Silver Dollar City.
This work was adapted by First Folio Theatre's Executive Director and Jeff Award-nominee David Rice, with music and lyrics by Rice and Michael Keefe, First Folio's resident composer. Michael Goldberg directs this "Shakespeare Under the Stars" production.
It has all the classic components for a folk fairy tale.
There's a wicked queen and her king, the latter searching and hoping he'll have a princely son (or two) to one day rule the kingdom from father's throne. There's a forest, a magic potion, romance and sword fights (or in this case, shovel fights).
This is the story of one of Shakespeare's most resourceful female characters, Imogen, played here by Kate McDermott, who defies her father, King Cymbeline, played by John Milewski, to secretly marry a poor boy, played by Matthew Keffer. Once the marriage is exposed to the royal court, the princess' groom is banished and his bride sets off on an adventure to reclaim her love. Falsely accused of betraying her lover, because of the tale spun by a trouble making suitor, played to perfection by James Earl Jones II, Imogen must flee to the hills to escape her death. She disguises herself as a man and with the help of a shepherd, a nice turn by Ronald Keaton, and his two sons, she must prove her honesty and chastity, restore her good name, and defeat her evil stepmother, a beautiful bad girl (draped with costuming adorned with feathers and a vulture skull accent) role made her own by Lia Mortensen.
The production also stars Andrew Behling wonderfully cast as Cloten, son of the wicked queen, who does a fine job of stirring up trouble for others.
Scenic design by Angela Weber Miller and lighting design by Jeff Award-winner Michael McNamara transport audiences to the lush, hauntingly beautiful scenery of the Appalachian Mountains and Civil War-era clothing is replicated by costume designer Rachel Lambert. Jason Martin serves as dialect coach.
With free parking on the grounds, tickets are $26 to $37 at (630) 986-8067 or firstfolio.org. Guests are invited to bring blankets and folding chairs, as well as food and beverages to enjoy while watching the 2 and 1/2 performance, which has one intermission.