CST artistic head Barbara Gaines could have a brilliant career directing television sitcoms. This thought—not meant derogatorily—struck me during the last fifteen minutes of her production of Shakespeare’s “Cymbeline, ” one of the Bard’s infrequently produced romances as well as Chicago Shakespeare Theater’s twenty-first-season opener. Indeed, it is within “Cymbeline”’s final moments that no less than two dozen stock plot denouements—known to the audience all along—are finally revealed to the characters in ridiculously rapid-fire succession: rebellious children are reunited with their parents; long lost heirs are revealed to exist; wicked stepparents die; warring factions declare peace, etc. With more melodramatic plot machinations than an entire season of your favorite nighttime soap, is it any surprise that “Cymbeline” finds echoes not only of “The Winter’s Tale,” “As You Like It” and “King Lear,” but also “Dynasty”? Fittingly, Gaines and company stress the self-conscious comedy all throughout the play, culminating in an effortless handling of the cornucopia of sitcom-y beats at the end: I was particularly impressed with her actors’ contemporary and deadpan deliveries of many line endings without disrupting the verse line’s proper meter. If there’s a tradeoff to this comedic grandiosity, however, it is that the production, while as enjoyably effervescent as a sip of good champagne, ultimately fails to balance out the humor with heartache, thereby missing some of the work’s darker and more emotionally satisfying dimensions. It means that a famously heartbreaking scene like Imogen’s conversation with a headless corpse, for example, is here reduced to the ridiculously laughable instead of the intimately tender. Still, Gaines’ goal seems to have been to put the light and bubbly back into Shakespeare’s romance, and I suppose there are worse offenses you could commit with this difficult play. (Fabrizio O. Almeida)
At Chicago Shakespeare Theater, 80 E. Grand, (312)595-5600. This production is now closed.