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Cardenio
by William Shakespeare and John Fletcher
Re-Imagined by Gregory Doran
Directed by Donna Northcott
St. Louis Shakespeare
October 7, 2017

Erik Kuhn and Cast
Photo by Ron James
St. Louis Shakespeare

Cardenio¬†at St. Louis Shakespeare is something of an exercise in discovery. Well, the “discovery” is from the Royal Shakespeare Company’s Artistic Director Gregory Doran, who sought to reconstruct a famous “lost” play credited to Shakespeare and John Fletcher, but whose script doesn’t exist anymore. ¬†Examining various sources from Shakespeare to Miguel de Cervantes’s Don Quixote, Doran put together this play as something of a Shakespearean re-creation. Now, St. Louis Shakespeare has staged the play, and it’s a fascinating experiment, featuring an excellent cast.

The structure of this play is reminiscent of one of Shakespeare’s comedies, although there are dramatic elements as well. The title character, Cardenio (Erik Kuhn) is in love with Luscinda (Shannon Lampkin), but they are having difficulty getting their parents to agree to let them marry. When Cardenio is about to ask his mother, Dona Camilla (Larisa Alexander) to make an offer to Luscinda’s father, Don Bernardo (Colin Nichols) for Luscinda’s hand, Cardenio doesn’t get a chance to speak before he is summoned to court, where he meets and befriends Fernando (Jason J. Little), the younger son of the Duke Ricardo of Aguilar (Jeff Lovell). While the Duke’s older son, Pedro (Kevin O’Brien) is mature and responsible, Fernando is more of a rogue, who has been involved with a farmer’s daughter, Dorotea (Lexie Baker) but then rejects her, although she doesn’t give up so easily. Then, when Fernando decides to take Cardenio back to his hometown to buy some horses, he sees Luscinda and in a moment decides to pursue her despite his friendship with Cardenio. Luscinda still loves Cardenio, however, and even though her father prefers the match with Fernando, Luscinda isn’t easily persuaded. This leads to a botched wedding, a confused and jealous Cardenio, and a series of events that involves Luscinda taking refuge at a nunnery, Cardenio wandering in the wilderness, and Dorotea disguising herself as a boy and working for a shepherd out in the same area where Cardenio has fled. Of course, this is essentially a comedy, so the various threads are eventually tied together, but it takes a lot of twists and turns of the plot to find that resolution.

This is an enjoyable play, very much like Shakespeare in style, although it takes a while for the plot to really get moving. The first act drags somewhat, but after the intermission is when the story really starts to get going. The characterizations are broad and distinctive, with the noble Cardenio and Luscinda and the wronged Dorotea emerging as the “heroes”, and the caddish Fernando needing to learn a lesson in how to treat basically everyone. There are some good comic moments here and some intrigue especially in the second part of the show. The casting is strong, as well, with Kuhn as the earnest Cardenio, Lampkin as the devoted Luscinda, and Baker as the determined Dorotea being standouts. The chemistry between Kuhn and Lampkin is particularly strong. There are also memorable performances from Karl Hawkins as Fernando’s exasperated servant Gerardo, Alexander as Cardenio’s stubborn mother Dona Camilla, O’Brien as Pedro, and Little as the roguish Fernando. It’s a strong cast all around, and there are some fun ensemble moments such as during the wilderness sequence when most of the cast members play sheep, costumed in nothing more than “regular” clothes. There’s also a clever use of the ensemble members as essentially props in various scenes.

The set, by Matthew Stuckel, is suitably detailed and serves well as various locations through the course of the story. There are some excellent costumes by Michele Friedman Siler as well, outfitting the players as everything from Spanish nobles to rustic shepherds to nuns and more. Madeline Schneider’s lighting and Robin Weatherall’s sound design also contribute well to the overall atmosphere of this sometimes serious, sometimes whimsical production.

Overall, I think Cardenio is a worthwhile exercise in re-imagining a play from Shakespearean catalog that nobody today would otherwise be able to see. It’s like the “Shakespeare that may have been”, really. Technically, it’s not really Shakespeare, but it’s a fascinating facsimile, and St. Louis Shakespeare has done an admirable job of bringing it to St. Louis audiences.

Cast of Cardenio
Photo by Ron James
St. Louis Shakespeare

St. Louis Shakespeare is presenting Cardenio at the Ivory Theatre until October 15, 2017.

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