A king's two infant sons are kidnapped by a lord who has been banished from the kingdom, and are assumed dead. Many years later his daughter secretly marries a man of whom her father disapproves. The king banishes the new husband, but before the husband leaves the newlyweds entrust each other with tokens of their love: he, a bracelet, she a ring. The husband later meets a man who disbelieves his new friend's assertions of the princess's beauty, honour, and faithfulness, and sets out to prove him wrong. When the man is stymied he steals the princess's bracelet as false proof of his conquest. When confronted with the evidence, the husband arranges to have her killed. Meanwhile, the king's second wife, angry that her plans for her son from a previous marriage to marry the king's daughter have been thwarted, decides to poison the princess. The physician switches out the poison for a sleeping potion. The queen gives the potion to her henchman and tells him it is an all encompassing cure. The henchman meets with the princess and confesses her husband's plan to kill her. The henchman helps disguise the princess as a boy and, believing the potion an asset, gives it to her to help her along her journey. The princess, now disguised as a boy, runs into her two long lost brothers, still very much alive, and their captor. The group bonds quickly and become fast friends. The brothers leave to hunt during which time the princess takes the potion and falls into a deep sleep. When the boys return they assume she his dead and bury her along side the queen's son whom they have killed while hunting. Meanwhile, war breaks out between the kingdoms. The husband puts the pieces together and deduces his wife's fidelity and his mistake in condemning her to death and, fearing all lost, joins the battle. The princess, still disguised as a boy, is discovered by the king and his men, eventually comes to, and the truth slowly unravels.
The pacing of play is a little slow in the first act, and the energy a little low. Rachel Cairn (Imogen) is at times inaudible, which is a critical misfortune if you have not first read the synopsis, but hits her stride during the second half of the first act. Shawn Macdonald garners many laughs throughout his portrayal of the queen. He is obviously a man in the role of a woman, but rather than content or delivery, the laughs seem to come from a femininity that emanates as a depiction of a man in drag. This physicality stands out as a possible inconsistent choice of character characterization.
Having said that, the actors are understatedly professional. Twice during this performance the fourth wall was broken. During a particularly delicate and quiet scene where Iachimo (Bob Frazer) sneaks into the princess's bed chamber, Frazer raises his finger to his lips to quiet an audience member who has broken into loud fits of coughing: it is an effective transition that pulls us deeper into his monologue. Later when Imogen, disguised as a boy, vacillates about entering a cave she engages the audience with her dilemma just enough to create an added edge of suspense.
This play is particularly challenging in that the eighteen character roles are divided among a mere seven cast members. This is an enormous undertaking with an arduous set of hurdles that the cast handles with grace and expertise. The character and costume changes occur on stage in full view: a red sash, a black vest, or a coarse linen cape distinguishing between roles as the actors move with precision through their physical and mental shifts in character.
Director Anita Rochon, choreographer Tara Cheyenne Friedenberg, and costume designer Mara Gottler work wonderfully together to create a scene stealing phantom character with the intricate blocking and character changes: the cleverly thought out and well-placed, quicker costume changes greatly enhancing the comedic effect of many of the lighter scenes. The transitions between scenes appear simple, but are indicative of an enormous effort, foresight, and imagination. The actors not only have to perform several characters, often back-to-back, but they are also in charge of their own props, costumes, and set changes: hugely commendable.
Enough cannot be said about the performances this particular evening. As if the actors did not have enough on their plates, they also had to compete with a boisterous, one-off music festival on neighbouring grounds. Though the music was at times booming loud, the actors simply stepped up their game delivering lines with enunciated, resonating clarity, and an even closer physical connect to the audience. They were heard and understood, and did not lose the regard they had worked so hard to achieve.
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