Also see Susan's review of The Arabian Nights
Cymbeline will never be one of William Shakespeare's more coherent playsthere's a reason why it's rarely performedbut director Rebecca Bayla Taichman has created a production of it for Washington's Shakespeare Theatre Company that's as beautifully visual and easy to follow as may be possible.
Cymbeline is one of Shakespeare's late romances, along with the frequently staged The Tempest and i>The Winter's Tale and the less familiar Pericles. It bounces wildly from comedy to near tragedy in a world of Shakespearean devicesparents alienated from their children, mistaken identity, women disguised as men, children kidnapped in infancy, potions that may be deadly or may just give a person a nice long sleep, and morebut, in this case, they're all in one play. Taichman finesses this by gently imposing a framing device of a woman (Dee Pelletier) reading a bedtime story to a young girl (Zoe Wynn Briscoe) and occasionally taking on a small role herself.
For once, the central character is not the one named in the title; it's Imogen (Gretchen Hall), daughter of the ancient British king Cymbeline (the magisterial Ted van Griethuysen). She defies her father by marrying the commoner she loves, Posthumus Leonatus (stalwart Mark Bedard), instead of her vain, idiotic stepbrother Cloten (Leo Marks), son of her father's second wife, the Queen (Franchelle Stewart Dorn, dripping with malevolence). This marriage sets in motion innumerable complications for Imogen such as attempted seductions, plots against her life, and a close encounter with a headless corpse.
Hall maintains the integrity of her character even in her most extreme moments, but also has the benefit of a solid supporting ensemble, among which Adrian LaTourelle shines as the duplicitous Iachimo. Even such minor roles as Cloten's wisecracking lord (Tom Story) and the servant Pisanio (William Youmans) get their chances to stand out in this production.
Scenic designer Riccardo Hernandez and lighting designer Christopher Akerlind have created a gorgeously shimmering, ephemeral world for the vast canvas of the story, which ranges from Cymbeline's court to the anachronistically modern city of Rome and the wilderness of Wales. People seem to float as they walk on hidden platforms behind metallic floors and transparent walls, and tanks of water turn red as blood during battle scenes while rain streams down in the background. Similarly, Miranda Hoffman's costumes encompass the Queen's voluminous gown, glinting like a snake's skin, as well as Cloten's foppishness and the simpler clothes of outdoorsmen and soldiers.
Shakespeare Theatre Company