Six Voices

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This is Anthony Byrnes Opening the Curtain on LA Theater for KCRW.

Okay, for everyone who said, "I can't possibly end 2012 without seeing a great production of Cymbeline," you are in luck!

What? No one said that?

Alright, I'll admit it -- Cymbeline rarely makes even a generous list of Shakespearean top ten lists. The simple story is...well actually there isn't a simple story which is part of the problem. One of Shakespeare's last plays -- it's a bit of hodgepodge. All the ingredients are there but in most productions they never quite gel.

That's what makes New York's Fiasco Theater Company's Cymbeline at the Broad Stage such a treat.

Fiasco greets the chaos of the plot with a laser-like elemental simplicity. In a way the performance can be boiled down to six nimble, harmonizing voices and a magical box.

First, the voices. To open the show, the ensemble of six actors comes downstage to sing the pre-show announcement a cappella. Sure, it's a charming and witty prologue that takes care of emergency exits and candy wrappers but it's also a subtle way of introducing us to the ethos of the world. You instantly get that it will be the human voice at the core of this drama. You appreciate that these are actors with not only the training for verse but also an instinctual love of ensemble. It's their voices together that will make the art, create the layers, reveal the nuance. And music, whether it's the opening ditty or the bluegrass ballad of the second act or the cello, guitar, banjo and even, yes, ukulele that the actors all play themselves, music will animate their world.

What also comes across from these first notes is the joy of performance.

These are charming, young actors who look like they're having fun. All six remain onstage throughout the show. Sitting just upstage of the action, part of the pleasure is watching them watch each other's work. They seem to be enjoying it as much as we are.

Then there's the box. If the human voice pronounces the production's ethos, this central mercurial set piece articulates it's aesthetic. The production is played on an all but bare stage. The only set, save for a semi-circle of candles, is a trio of wooden boxes. The largest is the size of very large trunk and over the course of the evening it becomes a bed, a billiard table, a forest dwelling, and several decent magic tricks. Like the actors who constantly transform into new characters with little more than a simple costume piece, this box becomes magical through reinvention. It embraces not only an elemental approach it's a lesson in creativity.

Take a break from the holiday chaos and treat yourself to an ensemble of actors who bring wit and joy to a tricky play.

Cymbeline plays this weekend only at the Broad Stage in Santa Monica.

This is Anthony Byrnes Opening the Curtain on LA Theater for KCRW.

Runtime: 2 hours and 40 minutes with one intermission

Disclosure: Cymbeline is a "KCRW Presents" production