The splendid production of “Cymbeline” directed by Mark Lamos, although uneven, boasts superb design elements that emphasize the magical qualities of Shakespeare’s sweeping romantic comedy. And at the center of the complex tale is an exciting performance by Martha Plimpton as Princess Imogen, the playwright’s most mature female heroine, who will undergo many trials before the neat conclusion.
One of Shakespeare’s late romance plays, “Cymbeline,” is unusual because the playwright adds heavy doses of tragedy and history while crafting an epic story of power, sprinkled with flourishes of the supernatural. The play takes many twists and turns, and Shakespeare uses many of the themes, devices, and character types he was fond of throughout his career. There are seductions, mistaken identities, exile, and magic potions, a girl disguised as a boy, good versus evil, treachery, apparitions and more but there is a grand design at work that is majestic.
The setting is during the reign of an actual ancient ruler, a man of peace, whose rule coincided with the birth of Christ. The complicated story takes off when Imogen is imprisoned in her father Cymbeline’s (John Cullum) court by her wicked stepmother (Phylicia Rashad). With her husband Posthumus (Michael Cerveris) banished, her honesty will be tested by the evil Iachimo (Jonathan Cake), who will report to her husband of her betrayal Events will spin out of control as the action carries the cast of 26 first rate actors (many playing multiple roles) across Britain and Italy. Two rival powers will clash amidst mystical occurrences before the ultimate happy ending culminates in a scene of love and forgiveness.
While the frequent opera director Mark Lamos presents a stylish evening, the play is dense and problematic. However, with the aid of an outstanding design team that makes impressive use of the huge Vivian Beaumont Theater, Lamos brings a semblance of order to the rambling proceedings. He attempts to harness the darker savage nature, while stressing the whimsical fairy tale quality of the work.
Michael Yeargan’s gilded set design enhanced by the skilled lighting of Brian MacDevitt adds to the magical quality and the overlapping playing area brings smooth transitions to the abruptly shifting scenes and tones. The lush costumes by Jess Goldstein are vibrant multicultural displays encompassing the Italian Renaissance, Britain and the Far East.
There are many beautiful poetic passages and the well trained actors are up to the language with some turning in excellent work while others overact with relish. John Cullman as the king brings a sweet confusion to the authority figure and Michael Cerveris turns in a sincere soulful performance that echoes Posthumus’ torment.
Also outstanding are Paul O’Brien as a banished Lord, and David Furr and Gregory Wooddell as Cymbeline’s long lost sons. Their inspired work grounds the evening and they all share a lovely bonding when they come upon Imogen in the forest thinking she is a lad. The scenes with the four actors are amongst the evenings highlights.
The gifted Martha Plimpton, who won a Tony Award just last season on this very same stage in Stoppard’s trilogy “The Coast of Utopia,” is the evening’s marvelous center, charmingly inhabiting the complex role with a passion and vigor that is utterly convincing. She transcends the language to breath life into the character imbuing her Princess Imogen with an intelligence that gives intense resonance to her many feelings.
By Gordin & Christiano
Originally Published on Hamptons.com
“Cymbeline” opened on December 2, 2007 at the Vivian Beaumont Theater, Lincoln Center, 150 West 65th Street at Broadway. Tickets are available by calling Tele-Charge 212-239-6200 or online at HYPERLINK "http://www.lct.org" www.lct.org