Cymbeline: Theater review by Adam Feldman
Wooden crates frame the stage of Cymbeline at Shakespeare in the Park, as though waiting to be unpacked. In a sense, that is just what director Daniel Sullivan does in his delightful production of this confusingly plotted epic. The play is a magpie’s nest of devices and characters from other Shakespeare works: a cross-dressing heroine, a fake-death potion, a foolish king, a wicked queen, a false accusation of infidelity and so on down the line. At times it’s as though the playwright were pushing his tricks to the verge of self-parody. You want mistaken identity? Here’s a heroine who weeps over the decapitated corpse of her would-be rapist, who is dressed in her husband’s clothes. You want neat plot resolutions? Here’s a finale in which dozens of revelations burst out one after the other, like kernels of corn in a popper.
A hodgepodge of this sort requires both a strong directorial hand and a very capable cast, and this production has both. Lily Rabe and Hamish Linklater, who have previously starred opposite each other in The Merchant of Veniceand Much Ado About Nothing, cement their status as the Lunt-Fontanne of Shakespeare in the Park with another pair of beautifully balanced performances. Rabe’s Imogen, like her Portia, is noble and virtuous without a hint of stuffiness; she has the spirit and spine to make you believe that this princess could also serve, in pinch, as a cook or a soldier (as the plot indeed requires). In a smartly doubled role, Linklater plays both Imogen’s much-deceived husband, Posthumus, and her doltish stepbrother, Cloten; the latter is one of Shakespeare’s great dumb villains, and Linklater acts his comic head off in the part.
Patrick Page lends his majestic voice to the titular but secondary role of Cymbeline, the somewhat inconstant king; Raúl Esparza is Iachimo, an Italian rake rendered here with a dash of mobster style (and, as a bonus, a bit of swell singing); Kate Burton plays both the scheming Queen and the cave-dwelling mystery man Belarius, as whom she looks astonishingly like Hillary Clinton in a blond goatee. Oases of deeper emotion notwithstanding—Imogen’s mourning, Postumus’s anger, Iachimo’s remorse—Sullivan keeps the tone light and generally comic, and trims some of Cymbeline’s weirder fat (farewell, visit from Jupiter!). For all the play’s notorious muddiness, Sullivan’s version feels clear and refreshing—ideal for a midsummer’s night.—Adam Feldman
Delacorte Theater (Off Broadway). By William Shakespeare. Directed by Daniel Sullivan. With Lily Rabe, Hamish Linklater, Raúl Esparza, Kate Burton. Running time: 2hrs 55mins. One intermission.
Follow Adam Feldman on Twitter: @FeldmanAdam