Alie Rahman, Wilson Young, & Sophie Hyde in Cymbeline. Photo: J. Tyler Franklin


By William Shakespeare
Directed by Meg Caudill

A review by Keith Waits

Entire contents are copyright © 2024 Keith Waits. All rights reserved.

OK. This was my first encounter with Cymbeline. In her curtain speech, director Meg Caudill notes how it is a bit of “great moments from Shakespeare”; a woman dresses as a boy, a loving couple is rent asunder through intrigue, a woman fakes her death by poisoning only to wake up beside her dead lover (?). It is one of his last plays so one cannot help but wonder if Shakespeare was running short of new ideas.

Caudill stages her Cymbeline in a style that deliberately evokes the film The Princess Bride, William Goldman’s “fairy tale love story”. The Folger Shakespeare Library provides this description of the play:

“Cymbeline tells the story of a British king, Cymbeline, and his three children, presented as though they are in a fairy tale. The secret marriage of Cymbeline’s daughter, Imogen, triggers much of the action, which includes villainous slander, homicidal jealousy, cross-gender disguise, a deathlike trance, and the appearance of Jupiter in a vision. Like some of Shakespeare’s other late work…it is an improbable story lifted into a nearly mythic realm.”

In 1937 George Bernard Shaw revised the final act, which was by then thought to be filled with nonsensical plotting and an absurd deus ex machina scene in which Jupiter descends from the heavens. Shaw brought humanism and feminist sensibility into his new resolution.

With a few direct steals from William Goldman, this is arguably a play with three authors. Never having seen the play before my guess would be that it makes it all more fun. Still, the essential idea of breaking faith with your beloved is Shakespeare’s, and it struck watching this production that, even though we think of Shakespeare as celebrating love, how often he shows lovers so easily believing the other has betrayed them. The character of Iachamo, played with chilling venality by Lachlan Apple, seems untrustworthy enough that Leonatus’ (Wilson Young)should require more than the evidence he received before wanting to kill Imogen (a wry but tender Sophie Hyde). Think also about Hero in Much Ado About Nothing and the use Iago makes of a handkerchief in Othello.

Perhaps the point is to witness the true nature of one’s character when what is most cherished is taken away. Imogen benefits as a character in playing the loss she suffers, but can we ever forgive Leonatus?

Caudill injects a good deal of knockabout fun into the action with her Princess Bride motifs in the costumes (nicely managed by Hannah Greene) and the funny quoting of several iconic lines from Goldman’s screenplay: “Never go in against a Sicilian when death is on the line!”

Besides the aforementioned Lachlan and Hyde, there is a showcase comic performance from Colin Brandt as Cloten, Jess Burke is a silly, commanding delight as the Queen and Lydia French has a quicksilver intelligence as Philaria.

Ray Raisor is also good as the title character, but the play never seems as interested in Cymbeline, the King, as it does in his family. Curiously absent during much of Act One, Raisor has their best moments late in the story, when the chickens come home to roost. This comes after a very kinetic series of movements that illustrates various battles and transfers of allegiance free of blood and trauma. There is one comically gruesome sequence earlier but the details would be spoilers so enough said.

Cymbeline is not the most enlightened of Shakespeare’s stories but thanks to G.B. Shaw and Meg Caudill Commonwealth Theatre Center lands a production that is robustly feminist.

Featuring Lachlan Apple, Colin Brandt, Nathan Bukowski, Jess Burke, Lydia French, Kaya Grass, Sophie Hyde, Ella Kozoll, Riley O’Bryan, Alie Rahman, Ray Raisor, Lore Rodriguez,  Jane Young, & Wilson Young


Part of the Young American Shakespeare Festival

May 10, 11, 14, 16, & 18 @ 7:30 pm

Commonwealth Theater Center
1123 Payne Street
Louisville, KY, 40204

Keith Waits is a native of Louisville who works at Louisville Visual Art during the days, including being the host of Artists Talk with LVA on WXOX 97.1 FM /, but spends most of his evenings indulging his taste for theatre, music, and visual arts. His work has appeared in LEO Weekly, Pure Uncut Candy, TheatreLouisville, and Louisville Mojo. He is now Managing Editor for