Some of the best times of my life have been spent lost in an epic fantasy adventure. From "Little Red Riding Hood" (epic to a preschooler) to "The Lord of the Rings" to "Harry Potter," there's something thrilling about simple worlds where good is good and bad is bad.
There's something thrilling, too, in Orlando Shakespeare Theater's lush production of "Cymbeline," a fairy tale for adults. It's in the way that director Jim Helsinger lets the audience members embrace their inner children. This is glorious grown-up fairy tale, and Helsinger finds just the right tone for his cast: The actors embody the stereotypes of the genre but don't slip into cheese.
Costumes by Denise R. Warner conjure the Arthurian times of legend, complemented by Bert Scott's lighting and the vine covered set of Bob Phillips.
And, of course, there's Shakespeare's way with words. The old truisms still resonate as heroine Imogen (plucky Carey Urban), disguised as a pageboy observes "I see a man's life is a tedious one." Or befuddled King Cymbeline (Wynn Harmon), pondering his wife, asks ruefully, "Who is't can read a woman?"
And then, amidst all the frivolity at the play's climax, Shakespeare slips in a message of forgiveness that still applies today. As emotionally delivered by David Hardie, as flawed hero Posthumous, it touches the heart and the mind.
All the principal actors make the most of their lines. Anne Hering, radiating a chilly malevolence as the Queen, sinisterly whispers "Well done" as her evil plans fall into place. Geoffrey Kent oozes flattery as his Iachimo tries to seduce the fair Imogen.
Brandon Roberts, with his pathetic strutting, makes villainous Cloten a figure of laughter and pity; it's tempting to hiss at him when he comes onstage.
As servant Pisanio, Michael Raver layers a comic persona with emotional depth when he's horrified by what his master commands.
The plot is almost too complicated to explain, though Helsinger smartly stages the introduction as a who's who of the characters to give the audience a helping hand. And through the secret identities, shifting loyalties and returns from the dead that follow it remains clear who is who.
The closest the show comes to the dreaded cheese zone is in a dynamic sword-fight scene, which abruptly mimics the movie slow-motion effect of"The Matrix"and others. But even that, when repeated, has a certain appealing rhythm.
"Cymbeline" has had an up-and-down history; sometimes coming into favor with theater groups, often ignored. As such, it remains one of Shakespeare's lesser-known works. But this is just the type of beautiful performance that could — and should — change that.
• What: An Orlando Shakespeare Theater production of the William Shakespeare play
• When: In repertory with 'Romeo & Juliet' through March 18 (next shows: 7 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 16; 8 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 18; 2 and 7 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 22; 8 p.m. Friday, Feb. 24)
• Where: Lowndes Shakespeare Center, 812 E. Rollins St., Orlando
• Tickets: $15-$38
• Call: 407-447-1700
• Online: OrlandoShakes.orgCopyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times