By: David Sheward
One of the most problematic of Shakespeare’s late plays, Cymbeline, is a fairy-tale fantasy full of cross-dressing heroines, lost princes, thwarted love, wicked stepmothers, and epic battles. The only way to treat the episodic, byzantine plot is to gently mock it. JoAnne Akalaitis took it too seriously and made it into a bizarre nightmare in a memorably awful 1989 staging at the Public downtown. Andrei Serban’s 1998 version in Central Park was an unashamedly epic tale featuring a moat and a scene-stealing Liev Schreiber as the villainous Iachimo. Barlett Sher’s 2002 production for Theater for a New Audience was frankly theatrical and embraced the story’s incredible coincidences and conventions.
Daniel Sulivan’s current frolic at the Delacorte in Central Park employs the basic principles as the better stagings: a troupe of actors telling the audience a far-fetched bedtime story.
The tale focuses on the plucky princess Imogen who is launched on a twisted path when she is wrongfully accused of infidelity to her husband Posthumous by the conniving Iachimo. The titular Cymbeline is a relatively minor character, Imogen’s noble father, the king of ancient Britain wed to a secretly scheming second wife, out to subjugate her step-daughter. Imogen becomes even more Snow White-like when she hides in the woods with a poor all-male family and falls into a death-like sleep after drinking poisonous concoction prepared by the queen. After much chaos and bloodshed, the wicked are punished, and the good are reunited and rewarded.
Sullivan transforms this silliness into a joyous celebration of stagecraft and directs with infectious energy. Nine actors play all the roles (in one particularly funny bit, Teagle F. Bougere rapidly switches headgear when he realizes he must deliver a line as a different character.) When not involved, they sit in full view, observing and waiting for their next cue. Audience members sit on Riccardo Hernandez’s charming stage-within-a-stage set and participate in the action, heightening the presentational effect.
The small ensemble tears into their multiple assignments with relish. Lily Rabe endows Imogen with blazing courage and passion and kicks up her heels in a brief bit as a bored cocktail waitress. Hamish Linklater is a gallant Posthumous and an equally clottish, cowardly Clotin, the Queen’s oafish son. The show is nearly stolen by Raul Esparza’s slick Iachimo, a Fosse-dancing devil who breaks into a delicious Rat Pack riff in a Las Vegas version of Rome (Tom Kitt composed the versatile original music.) Kate Burton is marvelously evil as the queen and stalwart as a grizzled male forest dweller. Patrick Page is a regal king and provides laughs as a gravel-voiced Mafia type. Bougere, David Furr, Steven Skybell, and Jacob Ming-Trent also have fun with their many and varied assignments, as does the audience with this captivating staging of the normally convoluted Cymbeline.
Aug. 10-23. Shakespeare in the Park at the Delacorte Theatre, 81 St. and Central Park West, Central Park, NYC. Tue.-Sun. 8 p.m. Running time: three hours and ten minutes including intermission. Free. (212) 539-8200 or www.publictheater.org.
Photos: Carol Rosegg
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