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Flock Theatre has been staging Shakespeare in the Connecticut College Arboretum for 21 summers. That's a lot of plays - plenty of "Midsummer Night's Dreams" and "Much Ado About Nothings" - but Flock is now performing one Shakespeare piece for the first time.
It's presenting "Cymbeline," one of The Bard's lesser known and less-often performed works.
When Flock Artistic Director Derron Wood has told people he is directing "Cymbeline," he has gotten his fair share of folks responding that they'd never heard of it.
"That's one of the reasons I'm doing it," he says.
Having staged "Romeo and Juliet" earlier this summer and planning on "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof" for the last two weeks in August, Flock was already showcasing two well-known titles.
"I'm like, all right, this is the year I can haul out an obscure Shakespeare we normally wouldn't do because no one knows it," Wood says.
They might know it better by the end of 2014. After choosing "Cymbeline" for Flock, Wood learned that a major motion picture version, starring Ed Harris and Ethan Hawke, was filmed and is scheduled to be released this year.
In "Cymbeline," King Cymbeline wants his daughter to wed his new wife's son. But the daughter, Imogen, elopes instead with her low-born love, Posthumus. The king promptly banishes Posthumus - who meets someone who bets he can seduce Imogen.
Wood says Shakespeare is exploring forgiveness and the idea of grace, as the characters hit the lowest point in their lives. There is an overarching theme, he says, that if you want to live, you stand up and keep going.
"Cymbeline" - like "The Winter's Tale" - falls into the category of a problem play. It doesn't fit fully into either the category of comedy or the category of tragedy.
"It goes back and forth. Some scenes and characters are very, very comic. It can turn almost on a dime, and it's very tragic or very scary," Wood says.
In this piece, Wood says, Shakespeare "tends to explore more weird or different things."
An example: when one character is asleep, he is visited by the ghosts of his dead family - and by the god Jupiter, who advises the character not to worry because Jupiter will make everything all right. By the end of the play, that's how it plays out, in classic deus ex machina fashion.
Another example: A woman - who, believed dead, has really been disguising herself as a male - wakes up to a decapitated man that she mistakes for her dead husband. She delivers an entire monologue to the body (puppetry helps out in creating the headless figure in Flock's production).
Strange, yes. But then the monologue that follows, Wood says, has "some of Shakespeare's most beautiful poetry that most people don't know. There are lines and there are speeches in here are as strong and powerful as 'the quality of mercy is not strained' from 'The Merchant of Venice.'"
"They all seem to come back to this idea of we as humans are defined by the trials and struggles we survive," he says. "That, to me, is a beautiful message and a beautiful story - and a beautiful realization as these characters are battling both the fakeness of life in the court versus the realness of life between two people who are actually honest with each other."
"Cymbeline," Connecticut College Arboretum, Williams Street, New London; Flock Theatre production; opens tonight and runs through July 27; 7 p.m. Wed.-Sun.; $15 ($10 students, seniors, and active military); (860) 443-3119.