The Romance Cycle | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

The Romance Cycle 

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The Romance Cycle, Court Theatre. This two-part adaptation of Shakespeare's late romances Cymbeline and Pericles achieves an engaging informality and intimacy thanks to the warmhearted energy of the fine cast and to director Charles Newell's concept, executed by set designer John Culbert, of eliminating the fourth wall between actors and audience. The auditorium and stage floors are covered by wall-to-wall white carpeting, turning the space into an oversize living room where we watch the cast enact their parts like parents viewing the make-believe games of their kids. The effect is enhanced if you leave your shoes at the door and walk around in your socks, as the house staff invites you to do. If you attend both parts of the cycle on a single day, which Court encourages, there's the added attraction of a Greek buffet served onstage between them.

But after a while the cozy atmosphere grows stale. The purpose of rotating repertory, as Newell has sometimes excitingly demonstrated in past seasons, is to showcase the versatility of an ensemble and its leader as they tackle texts of superior quality. But the two halves of this "Romance Cycle" are performed on a single set with the same brisk, athletic efficiency by actors wearing the same simple white costumes, and key players (Guy Adkins, Jay Whittaker, Kymberly Mellen) have been stuck with similar roles (good guys or bad guys) in both plays.

Cymbeline and Pericles are inferior Shakespeare--it's unclear how much of the potboiler Pericles he wrote--and pairing them only highlights their weak echoes of greater works. The almost absurdly action-packed plots revolve around idealized lovers whose devoted passion is threatened by the evil schemings of envious or lecherous villains; incest, sexual slavery, rape, and murder figure prominently, as does all-around deceit. The shared themes might make these plays seem apt companion pieces, but without more strongly differentiated productions "The Romance Cycle" stalls.

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