BY MICHAEL SOMMERS
OFF BROADWAY REVIEW
The older I get the more I admire those crazy romances that Shakespeare wrote late in his career.
The random and yet strangely connected events that drive wacko stories like "Cymbeline" turn out to be more like life than anyone under the age of 40 can imagine. Shakespeare's inventiveness and technical daring in writing this 1609 work also is better appreciated after one comes to know his previous plays.
As a refresher: "Cymbeline" centers on a British princess of yore, Imogen, whose commoner husband Posthumus is exiled to Rome and duped into believing she's untrue. Quitting the castle of her dotty royal dad Cymbeline and evil queen stepmother, pursued by the doltish Cloten in murderous love with her, Imogen shelters with hillbillies who actually are unsuspecting kinfolk. Then Roman legions invade Britain...
This is the play with the audacious final scene in which 17 or so story points are explained and resolved by Shakespeare in several surprising minutes. Love it!
Speaking of audacious, a nifty version of "Cymbeline" as delivered by a six-member ensemble arrived Sunday at the New Victory Theater.
Presented under the auspices of Theatre For a New Audience, this production is the frisky creation of Fiasco Theater, a troupe founded in 2007 by graduates of the Brown University/Trinity Rep MFA acting program.
Staged by Noah Brody and Ben Steinfeld, who also perform, the play has been edited and condensed to its essential scenes and characters. Jessie Austrian solely and agreeably depicts Imogen as a fairly unruffled creature while her five comrades ably portray everybody else.
Switching costume bits, Paul L. Coffey proves especially adaptable as four characters ranging from the warmly loyal servant Pisanio to a snooty Roman ambassador. In their chief roles Brody presents a manly Posthumus and Steinfeld jauntily plays the villainous Iachimo with an eloquent eyebrow. Husky, bearded Andy Grotelueschen varies his befuddled Cymbeline with a noxious Cloten. Arms akimbo as the slinky Queen, Emily Young nicely shifts into Ma Kettle mode as a barefoot "Belaria" - a female version of the story's banished nobleman Belarius.
Confidently performing with easily physicality and minimal trappings upon an oval platform — a large, credenza-size box is deployed cleverly during the action, particularly when Cloten loses his head — the clearly-spoken ensemble also sings and plays musical instruments and generally convey they're having a darned good time with Shakespeare's wild romance.
Newcomers to the play cannot fully appreciate Fiasco's achievement in rendering a knotty text with such nifty fluency, but old hands at Shakespeare are likely to applaud the company's cheerful versatility.
"Cymbeline" continues through Jan 30 at the New Victory Theater, 209 W. 42nd St., New York. Call (646) 223-2020 or visit www.smarttix.com.