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NewsApr 4, 2017

“The play’s the thing” for the Oxford Street Players

Lesley’s dramatic ensemble presents ”Cymbeline,” a rare gem in the Shakespearean canon | April 6-9

Actors and tech crew members are in the final stages of polishing and rehearsing our spring production of Shakespeare's "Cymbeline," a rare treat in a world brimming with productions of "Romeo and Juliet" and "Macbeth."

Ladders, lights, computer equipment and extension cords are spread throughout the seats and stage of Marran Theater. Not quite the majestic Elizabethan scene one might expect from Shakespeare, but a manifestation of the finishing touches coming together as our premier dramatic performance troupe, the Oxford Street Players (OSP), prepares for opening night on Thursday, April 6.

Though the show may be more unknown, it still serves up the intrigue and complicated stratagems that have come to be associated with the work of the Bard. When King Cymbeline marries a deceptive woman who has an arrogant son called Cloten, he arranges the marriage of Cloten to his beautiful daughter, Imogen. Imogen defies this plan, intending to marry the poor but worthy Posthumus Leonatus. Cymbeline banishes Posthumus to Rome and Iachimo, the villain of the play, bets Posthumus that he can seduce Imogen. All is revealed in time, to varying degrees of resolution for the characters.

“There's a lot of different parts of other Shakespeare plays that go into it,” notes student actor Amanda Shu. “Star-crossed lovers, infidelity, a king's relationship with his daughter. It’s worth getting to know this play, which isn't often read or performed in schools.”

A “Cymbeline” resurgence

Professor Annie Pluto, OSP’s artistic director, points to a resurgence in the play’s popularity thanks to a production at a major Chicago theater company and a movie version with Ethan Hawke that's set in modern times with motorcycle gangs but with the same text.

“Then the Globe Theater in London did it last year but they renamed it ‘Imogen,’ which is the female character, the main daughter, and they made a big speech about how Imogen is given her due finally, because she really is the main character,” says Dr. Pluto, who is also stage director of the OSP production.

“It should be called ‘Imogen,’” adds student and stage manager Shaina Gilks.

It’s that kind of questioning and inquiry that contributes to the students’ learning as part of this four-credit play production course, which meets twice weekly to discuss everything from English history to Elizabeth I.

“We talk about how Elizabeth I was the greatest actor of her age because she constructs that character, ’the virgin queen,’ and that kind of sails her through 45 years on the throne,” Pluto says.

Cymbeline Body 1
The Oxford Street Players bring Shakespeare's universe to Lesley.

Oxford Street Players' roots run deep

Pluto is founding director of the Oxford Street Players, a Shakespeare company founded in 1993.

“It was started as a Shakespeare company. It's very difficult, but if you can do this, you can do anything,” Pluto reflects. “It’s a great way to teach English history, it's a great way to teach literature, it's a great way to teach poetry, get into characters, learn about text and then you're a part of this club.”

The OSP bond runs deep, with Lesley alumni returning to participate, like Christen DiBiase (Class of 2015) who is acting in the production and helping to paint the set.

“I painted the world and most of the planets,” she says, referring to the solar system-style set that's transforming the Marran stage. “And I met both my roommates doing OSP.”

“We have another alum who did the airbrushing for the set,” says Pluto, “We’ve even had people fall in love and get married through doing OSP. There’s at least three couples I can think of that have met here. It’s very intense work, people come in and make best friends, then become roommates.”

“It’s a lot of work, but it’s fulfilling work”

Sarah Beth Campisi is on her second OSP production. As a student athlete, she must balance her time between the track team and the drama troupe, as well as find time to study.

“When I joined the class last year, I was unsure about how I’d be able to contribute because I’m also on the track team and it’s a very demanding schedule so I’ve had to juggle those two things,” she says. “I remember after the read through, I thought this is too much fun for me not to be involved and I want to be an actor. I was able to balance everything. It was busy semester, but I had a lot of fun with it.”

She is playing the role of Belarius in “Cymbeline.”

“Basically, he’s an old man. He lives in the mountains and he has raised two young boys who he actually kidnapped from the king when he unjustly banished him from the kingdom-so he’s a complicated guy,” says Campisi.

A place for all actors

The troupe makes room for both veterans and newcomers alike. Senior and English major Renan Fontas plays Posthumus Leonatus, a tragic hero of the piece, and has performed in such plays as “Much Ado About Nothing” and “Romeo and Juliet.”

“Cymbeline” marks Rachel Donnelly’s first foray into Shakespearean performance and she’s starting out as the lead, performing in the title role of King Cymbeline. The audition process in fall of 2016 allowed Donnelly to really dig into the text and understand the characters.

Cymbeline Body 2
Dress rehearsals are scheduled this week in preparation
for opening night.

“We got a summary and list of characters ahead of time, and when we got there, [Dr. Pluto] gave us these long monologues and gave us an hour to read them and go over it,” Donnelly recalls. “She pointed us toward characters we might fit best and that really helped me because I was able to dissect what I was saying.”

As opening night looms, the players have their many parts well in hand, especially tech crew sophomore Emilie Magnan, a student in our College of Art and Design.

“I will go wherever somebody needs me at this point. I’m OK with being a jack-of-all-trades,” says Magnan. “It’s a lot of work, but it’s fulfilling work. Everyone here is so friendly and everybody cares so much. I’ll miss it. I’m definitely coming back next year.”

“Cymbeline” show times

Catch the Oxford Street Players and their production of “Cymbeline” in the Marran Theater:

  • Thursday, April 6 at 7:00PM
  • Friday, April 7 at 7:00PM
  • Saturday, April 8 at 7:00PM
  • Sunday, April 9 at 2:00PM

Tickets are $5 and $10, call 617-349-8115 to reserve.


Cymbeline Cast:

King Cymbeline (Rachel Donnelly)
Queen (Veronica Meade)
Imogen, Daughter of Cymbeline (Katya Zinn-Bjorkman)
Posthumus (Renan Fontes)
Cloten, Son to the Queen (Riva Foss)
Pisanio (Matthew Murch)
Cloten’s Lords (Chelsea Brown) (Christen DiBiase)
Gentlemen (Cassidy Donahue) (Freddy Widmer) (Noah Mulgay)
Lady/Helen (Alana Griffon)
Belarius/Morgan (Sarah Beth Campisi)
Guiderius/Polydore, Son to Cymbeline (Allegra Fortin)
Arviragus/Cadwal, Son to Cymbeline (Chelsea Brown)
Cornelius, Court Physician (Gwen Squires)
Briton Captain (Gwen Squires)
Gaoler (Freddy Widmer)
Lords (Kristen DiBiase) (Noah Mulgay) (Amanda Shu)

Caius Lucius (Tony Ferreira)
Iachimo (Amanda Vogel)
Philario (Cassidy Donahue)
Senator (Gwen Squires)
Tribune (Rachel Donnelly)
Soothsayer (Amanda Shu)
Roman Captain (Alana Griffon)

Gods and Ghosts
Jupiter (Rachel Donnelly)
Sicilius/Posthumus’ Father (Tony Ferreira)
Posthumus’ Mother (Jessa Mulman)
Posthumus’ Brothers (Cassidy Donahue) (Alana Griffon)

Messengers (Amanda Shu) (Heather Bridge)
Frenchman (Amanda Shu) (Noah Mulgay)

Tech Crew:

Cece Charrette - Program Design, Advertisement
Gerry Chica - Stage Team
Stephanie Contois - Scenic Painter, Props
Julia de Mars - Stage Team
Gabby Diaz - Scenic Painting, Hair and Makeup
Connor Havey - Sound
Alex Karnes - Assistant Lighting Engineer
Siobhan Leach - Hair and Makeup
Morgan Loor - Scenic Painting
Ashlyn Odowd - Assistant Set Construction
Khaaliqa Roberts - Hair and Makeup
Mayerlin Valdez - Advertisement, Hair and Makeup
Shaina Gilks - Stage Manager
Alice Fristrom - Back Stage Manager
Emilie Magnan - Assistant Stage Manager, Costumes
Christen DiBiase - Head Scenic Painter
Sarah Winters - Assistant Lighting Engineer
Ricky Martin - Scenic Painter