Cymbeline: Fanciful and Entertaining Romantic Melodrama at Shakespeare Theatre
However, it does have to be noted that this production of Cymbeline fails to soar. For all his extremely good work, director Discher’s straight forward approach to the material does not convey the rush of excitement and joyful exhilaration which a more free spirited, magical and imaginative conception would bring to it. Those who were fortunate enough to see the radiant and highly stylized version of Cymbeline directed by Mark Lanos for the McCarter and/or the almost as fine, richly imaginative one that Andre Serban created for the New York Shakespeare Festival at the Delacorte (both presented in 1998) will best enjoy the good work at hand if they tamp down expectations raised by them.
At the outset, two gentlemen meet in a garden and discuss the back story, which instantly sets the stage for all the intrigue to follow. When this scene is not read slowly and clearly, the audience has to play catch up in the scene to come, and in several other scenes scattered throughout the play (as various of the several threads of plot are picked up). Unfortunately, Tyler Woods and Philip Mutz rush headlong through this scene as if it is just some useless prattle to be gotten out of the way (in praise of the Lanos production, one critic noted that this conversation was usefully spoken “v-e-r-y s-l-o-w-l-y”). There is more information in the opening dialogue than I can squeeze in here, and it would behoove you to read it before seeing this production. However, after this seriously misguided start, the line readings are properly paced and lucidly spoken without sacrifice to a lively pace.
Cymbeline had wanted Imogen, his lovely and lively daughter by his late wife, to marry the arrogant and foolish Cloten, the offspring of his Queen’s first marriage. However, without Cymbeline’s consent, Imogen has married Posthumous, an exemplary young man who was raised at the Court along with her. As a result, the King has banished Posthumous, who is off to exile in Italy. Shortly after arriving in Rome, Posthumous acts the fool and allows himself to be goaded by the villainous Iachimo into betting that the latter cannot seduce the true and virtuous Imogen. Iachimo will connive to convince Posthumous that he has seduced Imogen in much the same way that a far better known Shakespearean villain whose name also begins with the letters i and a convinced the tragic Othello of Desdemona’s non-existent disloyalty. However, tragedy is nowhere in sight, as in Cymbeline, the knavery makes for ripe and entertaining melodrama.
Then there are Cymbeline’s two sons, mysteriously taken from the palace in their infancy. Unbeknownst to anyone, they have been raised in a cave on a remote coast of Britain as the children of their kidnapper, the unjustly banished British nobleman Belarius. Oh, and there are the invasion of Britain by a Roman legion over her refusal to continue to pay tribute to Rome, Imogen’s escape from the palace disguised as a man in order to try to join with and observe the true heart of Posthumous, the poison prepared for the Queen which leads Posthumous to believe her dead, apparitions, the appearance of Jupiter, and ... That’s more than enough of the phantasmagoria of plots derived from other works in the Bard’s canon.
Charlotte Parry is an especially lively and engaging Imogen. There is an ease and youthful modernity in her speech and movement which makes us connect with Imogen across the centuries. Derek Wilson performs entertainingly in a similar vein as her Posthumous. However, his performance fails to delineate the gap between his assumed goodness and his hurtful behavior. Richard Bourg is strong and convincing as the straightforwardly written Cymbeline. Delphi Harrington as the Queen brings gusto and a welcome twinkle in her eye to the wicked Queen. Mark Elliot Wilson is a stalwart, standard issue Shakespearian as Belarius. Still, there is a lot more to be found in this role.
Mark H. Dold captures the obnoxious Cloten perfectly. Without winking at his outrageous sense of self importance, Dodd emphasizes Cloten’s spoiled childishness to delightful effect. Robert Gomes preens and sneers to good effect as the duplicitous Iachimo. Jared Zeus and Jordan Coughtry bring a freshness and sense of naïve innocence to the roles of the King’s sons. Although rather youthful in appearance for the avuncular servant Pisanio, Michael Stewart Allen is lively and engaging throughout. Patrick Toon and Todd Quick are delightfully jocular as lords in attendance to Cloten.
Reservations notwithstanding, the Shakespeare Theatre Cymbeline is a very good production which will bring greatest delight to those experiencing this underrated masterpiece for the first time.
Cymbeline continues performances (Tues. 7:30 p.m./ Wed. – Sat. 8 p.m./ Sun. 7 p.m./ Mats, Sat. & Sun. 2 p.m./ Addl. Mats. 12/27 & 12/29) through December 31, 2006 at the New Jersey Shakespeare Theatre on the campus of Drew University, 36 Madison Avenue at Lancaster Road, Madison, NJ 07940. Box Office:973-408-5600; on line: www.ShakespeareNJ.org.
Cymbeline by William Shakespeare, directed by Joe Discher