Oak Brook's First Folio Theatre streams award-winning 2013 premiere of 'Cymbeline'

  • Ryan Czerwonko, left, Kate McDermott, Ronald Keaton and Tyler Rich perform in First Folio Theatre's 2013 world premiere of "Cymbeline: A Folk Tale with Music," streaming online from June 3 to 14.

    Ryan Czerwonko, left, Kate McDermott, Ronald Keaton and Tyler Rich perform in First Folio Theatre's 2013 world premiere of "Cymbeline: A Folk Tale with Music," streaming online from June 3 to 14. Courtesy of David Rice

 
 
Updated 6/2/2020 8:57 AM

In 2013, David Rice arranged for a two-camera video recording of First Folio Theatre's world premiere of "Cymbeline: A Folk Tale With Music" as part of a marketing strategy.

Rice, who co-founded the Oak Brook theater with his late wife, Alison C. Vesely, thought having a top-quality video of First Folio's award-winning musical adaptation of the William Shakespeare comedy might help convince other theater companies to schedule a production in a forthcoming season.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Little did he know how valuable that "Cymbeline" video would be now that theaters have canceled productions in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Having the video "is pure coincidence," said Rice, who adapted the play and co-wrote the score with composer/lyricist Michael Keefe. Streaming it online is a bonus for audiences who weren't expecting a summer show from First Folio, which had extended its hiatus on outdoor productions until 2021.

"We knew folks would be missing outdoor Shakespeare," Rice said. "This isn't quite the same, but it gives them a taste."

Acknowledging the "stopgap measures for artists and audiences," Rice said, "we're all looking forward to that point somewhere down the road when we can get back to live theater. Until then, we keep plugging away doing the best we can."

First Folio Theatre streams its 2013 world premiere of "Cymbeline: A Folk Tale with Music" online from June 3 to 14. The cast included Matthew Keffer, left, James Earl Jones II and Andrew Behling.
First Folio Theatre streams its 2013 world premiere of "Cymbeline: A Folk Tale with Music" online from June 3 to 14. The cast included Matthew Keffer, left, James Earl Jones II and Andrew Behling. - Courtesy of David Rice
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That means Shakespeare, whose work, Rice says, resonates unlike any other playwright.

"There is no time in history that Shakespeare doesn't work. There's no place Shakespeare doesn't work. He was writing about the universal human experience," Rice said.

The actors and artists will be paid for the online production, which Rice says he could extend if demand warrants.

A later Shakespeare play, "Cymbeline" is about Imogen, an innocent young woman who marries against her kingly father's wishes. She is accused of infidelity and then flees the kingdom disguised as a man to avoid assassination. It had long been a favorite of Rice and Vesely. But their affection didn't blind them to its shortcomings, specifically its myriad, convoluted plotlines, which Rice was convinced he could improve.

"The egoist in me said ... this Shakespeare guy didn't get it right. I can fix this," he said, tongue firmly in cheek.

Skyler Schrempp, left, and Kate McDermott appeared in First Folio Theatre's 2013 premiere of "Cymbeline: A Folk Tale with Music," which the theater will stream online from June 3 to 14.
Skyler Schrempp, left, and Kate McDermott appeared in First Folio Theatre's 2013 premiere of "Cymbeline: A Folk Tale with Music," which the theater will stream online from June 3 to 14. - Courtesy of David Rice

To Rice, some of the references recalled rural America, which inspired the adaptation's setting -- Appalachia during the Civil War -- and the bluegrass-centered score.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Directed by Michael Goldberg and starring Kate McDermott as Imogen, Rice's streamlined "Cymbeline" premiered at First Folio's Mayslake Peabody Estate home during summer 2013. Later that year, the production earned equity Joseph Jefferson Awards for adaptation and for score.

First Folio's version unfolds as a fairy tale, with a lot of humor and a happy ending. Rice believes the story can be a remedy for troubled times.

"Right now what a lot of us are seeking is something that makes us feel good, something that makes us laugh and something that gives us hope," he said.

• • •

"Cymbeline: A Folk Tale With Music"

When: First Folio Theatre's 2013 world premiere is available for streaming on the Vimeo service from June 3-14

Tickets: $20, available at firstfolio.org

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