Web-extra (May 24, 2018): Cymbeline (from July 4 to August 6); Bear and Company in Westboro and Hintonburg.

Web-extra (May 24, 2018): Cymbeline (from July 4 to August 6);
Bear and Company in Westboro and Hintonburg.

By Eleanor Crowder.

“Ottawa is lucky in its wonderful summer evenings. Our outdoor shows offer people across the city an opportunity to see theatre right in their own back yards.”

Thursday nights in Westboro and Hintonburg, a special show at Westboro Beach on July 12: it’s show-time for “Cymbeline”, this summer’s offering as Bear & Co. brings Shakespeare to your park. Check out http://bearandcompany.ca to see when your closest park hosts a performance (the full tour will be posted shortly).

Bear & Co. is a collective formed by actors and theatre artists living in Ottawa, and sometimes from across the country. This year Sharon King–Campbell comes to Ottawa to direct Bear’s summer show. A Canterbury High School grad, she settled in Newfoundland in her early twenties and is returning twice in this next season, to direct “Cymbeline” in all its crazy plot twists this summer and then to assistant direct with Jillian Keiley when “Between Breaths” hits the stage at the NAC.

Bear & Co. recreates the strolling players of Shakespeare’s time in this parks tour each summer. Here are the backdrops of our outdoor natural beauty in its unadorned appeal. Here is the collusion of a crowd eager for a story and a theatrical delight in the long evening. Here are the laughs, the groans at his roller coaster of plot twists… even the hat passed at the end of the show to make sure the actors eat and can move on to work another day. In Shakespeare’s time, actors escaped the dirt and disease of summer in the City to play in the smaller towns and at great houses. Our Shakespeare in the Park brings you top talent and an escape into the green spaces which sustain our neighbourhoods all summer long.

This summer’s cast includes William Beddoe as Cymbeline, and Rebecca Benson as his wicked second wife. Phillip Merriman doubles as her unlovely son, Cloten, and as the fascinating Italian lover, Jachimo. Ian Campbell, also from Newfoundland, plays Posthumous Leonatus, the hero of the story, and Megan Carty is the heart-breaking and redoubtable heroine, Imogen. Ellen Manchee plays the gruff but kindly loyal servant, and also the invading Roman army.

The cast list alone gives the clue to the story: here is Shakespeare’s take on the pre-history of his island. He turns his gaze on the winning back of Britain from the Roman invaders. Certainly, there is a historical record of that invasion in 55 BCE.

Julius Caesar came, saw, conquered. But Shakespeare plays here with the mythic moment of devolution, when the island recovers its essential wildness and shucks the Roman yoke. The hero, Posthumous, is that central mongrel: a Roman-named, dispossessed lowly Briton, who fights for the Romans as they attempt to re-stake their claim, and then for British independence. In the course of the play, the necessary home-grown muscles belong to wild men raised in a Welsh cave. Their brawn wins the day. It is only accidentally that they are revealed to be the true heirs of Cymbeline, the king, stolen away in early childhood.

Fairy tale elements abound in this story. The wicked stepmother tries to poison her enemies. The seductive lover hides in a trunk. The king himself has wild rages and makes pronouncements that he regrets. The wild men are upstanding and noble souls. This play belongs very late in Shakespeare’s work, and ties together his favourite plot devices with elements of the old tales he must have heard around the fire as a child. For us, it has the same fun mix of plot elements recognizable from “Romeo & Juliet” and from “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”, intercut with slapstick and outright fantastical elements.

One of Bear & Co.‘s founding artists, Rachel Eugster, revels in precisely this zany mix. She first brought Shakespeare performances by teens to the Hintonburg Community Centre when her own kids were that age. A decade later, she has appeared in most of Bear’s productions, indoors and out, and served as music director for many. Newswest readers know her most recently for her appearance in “No Way to Say Good-Bye”, the company’s tribute to Leonard Cohen that played The Gladstone a year after his death. Rachel’s own vocal pyrotechnics and music arrangements paid homage to Cohen’s work, and took a delighted audience with her in appreciation of his music. She will again collaborate with fellow musicians Scott Richardson, Robin Guy and Pierre Brault in next October’s show to honour Joni Mitchell; in “This Flight Tonight”. Tickets for the next Gladstone season go on sale after the May long weekend.

Rachel says, “Ottawa is lucky in its wonderful summer evenings. Our outdoor shows offer people across the city an opportunity to see theatre right in their own back yards.”

Be sure to catch Cymbeline, running July 4 to August 6th. Show start is 7 p.m., but come early: you’ll want a perfect place for your picnic and your lawn chair.


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