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"Imogen in the Wild" Previews: Part 2

By Cymbeline Anthropocene on May 11, 2021 at 08:59 PM in Project News

Over the last few weeks, the Cymbeline in the Anthropocene blog has been following the newly released video previews of Shakespeare in Yosemite’s film production, Imogen in the Wild. In the first week we reviewed the production’s original music videos, and last week’s selection featured scenes that hint at the character development of one of the play’s villains, Iachimo. This week, in our final installment (for now!), we examine two more scene previews that expose the play’s engagement with contrasting masculinities and the way they relate to the environment.

Based on Act 3, scene 3, the excerpt above opens with sweeping shots of Guiderius (Amber Loper) and Arviragus (Angel Nuñez) hiking through a variety of landscapes: a windswept beach, a forest during sunrise, sandy mountains, and finally, they appear together with Belarius (Lee Stetson) beside a mountain lake, admiring the snow-capped peaks across the water. This scenographic montage is scored by a song performed  a capella by Bella Camfield, adapted from the traditional hymn “For the beauty of the earth.” We then hear Belarius speaking over the song, first quoting John Muir’s famous assertion that “there is a love of wild nature in everybody,” in praise of the environment he and the two youths wander through. 

The scene then lands (pun intended) on all three characters in their forest cave, preparing for another venture into the wild. The two boys express their restlessness and long to visit the social life of the city, gently mocking their father figure Belarius, who reminds them of the vitality and richness of the wilderness in which he has raised them. As Guiderius and Arviragus set off to scout the mountainside, Belarius reveals their true identities in a soliloquy: the boys are actually Cymbeline’s long lost sons, who he spirited to the woods years ago to protect them from their stepmother’s machinations. 

This next excerpt of Act 3, scene 5 contrasts Belarius’ gentle, protective fathering with that of Cymbeline (Dennis Brown), who in this adaptation is the mayor of the city setting. Cymbeline enters with his entourage, dismissing Ranger Lucia’s (Jess Rivas) concerns about an ecologically harmful energy deal he has refused to reconsider. As he, his wife Queenie (Connie Stetson) and her son Cloten (Chase Brantley) celebrate the deal, Cymbeline calls for Imogen, demanding to know why his daughter has not joined them. Upon being informed that his daughter has fled or gone missing since her husband’s banishment, Cymbeline’s reaction is not concern, but anger, as he storms away raging that Imogen has been ungrateful in marrying Leo against his wishes. 

Queenie, for her part, does not demonstrate any kinder impulses as Imogen’s stepmother, musing that whether Imogen has died or run away in disgrace, both scenarios serve her own schemes for power. Lastly, Cloten confesses his own predatory feelings about his step-sister; the scene ends with him vowing revenge upon her for rejecting his advances, and bullying her assistant Pisanio to help him as he plots to hunt down the couple in the wild, murder Leo, and sexually assault Imogen. 

It should be stated that Cloten’s gleeful desire for violence is deeply disturbing even in original and historical performances of Cymbeline, but feels especially unsettling in the modern dress of this adaptation, especially so soon after the emergence of the #MeToo movement. Imogen in the Wild seems to be handling this difficult plot in the play with careful consideration, framing it within a much larger critique of abusive patriarchal powers in this adaptation. 

Among the play’s younger generation of characters, Cloten’s creepy violence contrasts the curious nature of Guiderius and Arviragus, who long for the social world of the city not as something they could exploit, but as new environment in which they could learn to be in good relation with others. This desire for mutual and respectful relationships is, of course, in line with the teachings they have inherited from Belarius, who has taught them to engage in care and reciprocity with their more-than-human relations in the wild. 

Belarius as a father figure has raised the two boys to embody a kind of masculinity that values stewardship,  mutual care, and admiration for their human and non-human kin. His parenting style stands in corresponding contrast to Cymbeline himself. Cymbeline’s attempts to control Imogen’s marriage, agency, and autonomy are deeply entangled with his zeal for environmental destruction for profit: when we meet him in the first half of the play, the environment he lives with and even his own children are little more than resources to be exploited. Considering the patriarchal capitalism Cymbeline rules with and makes into a cultural norm, it is perhaps less surprising that exploitative violence like Cloten’s are fostered in such an environment—and more understandable that Belarius felt the need to rescue Cymbeline’s own sons from such toxic lessons about how they should relate to the world and others. 

The links between toxic masculinities, capitalism, and environmental destruction have been studied extensively in the field of ecofeminism, a critical movement analyzing the ideological intersections of gender and ecology (click here for an overview of ecofeminism, and here for a list of useful articles). It is exciting that Imogen in the Wild already invites this kind of intersectional thinking in the film’s ecological themes—even just from a few small excerpts! 

The Cymbeline in the Anthropocene team will continue to share thought-provoking updates from Shakespeare in Yosemite in the coming months, as well as equally stirring projects from our nine other collaborating theatres. Join us on this blog, or on social media at @ecocymbeline to learn more!