Love Lost and Love Regained in Shakespeare’s Cymbeline

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Cymbeline

by William Shakespeare

Directed by Daniel Sullivan

with  Teagle F. Bougere, Kate Burton, Emma Duncan, Raul Esparza, David furr, Hamish Linklater, Jacob-Ming-Trent, Tim Nicolai, Patrick Page, Lily Rabe, Steven Skybell, David Ryan smith

The Public Theater’s production of Cymbeline, part of its annual free Shakespeare in the Park series (Central Park’s Delacorte Theater), is extraordinary in its direction of one of Shakespeare’s lesser known works. It is a cool summer breeze transporting the audience away from the summer heat; It is a cool delicious salad that leaves the audience wanting more! Magnificantly directed by Daniel Sullivan, it includes a creative team that features Riccardo Hernandez for scenic design, David Zinn for costume design, David Lander for lighting design, Acme Sound partners for sound design, and Tom Kitt for the original music.This is a beautiful contemporary rendition of Shakespeare’s work. During the morning of the performance, I read and studied Cymbeline so that I would have a better understanding of the performance. I wanted to be able to focus on the performance instead of the meanings of unfamiliar words and phrases. Becoming well acquainted with the performance beforehand makes a great difference when seeing Shakespeare. I was able to determine which scenes were deleted from the performance and how some scenes were rearranged to suit the contemporary performance.

The best part of the show,  is how select members of the audience, while sitting on stage, participate in the performance, and how music and dance are beautifully woven within the story. The sound and the lighting design beautifully accent the actors’ performances. Lily Rabe plays Imogen and Hamish Linklater plays both Posthumus Leonatus and Clotus. Patrick Page adeptly plays Cymbeline, the King. Cymbeline is the story of a daughter’s love, and a father’s fury; it’s the story of a queen’s revenge and a stepdaughter’s triumph; it’s the story of Iachimo’s chicanery and a husband’s redemption; and lastly, it’s the story of war and peace. Cymbeline regains his long-lost sons who were both kidnapped twenty years before the beginning of the play, and Imogen regains her husband that she previously believed was dead. The Queen and her son, Clotus are both dead, and no one is sorry for their death! Truly at the end of this play, the audience can say, “All’s Well That Ends Well.” But, that is another play! 

Daniel Sullivan, the director of this play, is ingeniously creative. He takes what appears to be difficult text and rearranges the text to help the audience better understand the performance.The syntax of the opening lines of the text makes the initial concepts somewhat difficult to understand. I read those lines several times to make sure that I was understanding the text; however, in The Public Theater’s performance, there are two characters on stage who serve, initially as narrators, to give us an understanding of the opening scene of the text. Under the direction of Sullivan, audience members are given lines to read as the narrators orient the audience to the events in the story that take place prior to the beginning of the play. There are times when the audience is encouraged to clap to the music, further bringing us into the drama. I looked forward, however, to the scene in which Posthumus father’s apparition would appear during Posthumus’s  dream; it, however, was a deleted scene. The play is three hours long including a fifteen minute intermission. That scene and others would have added additional time to an already lengthy running time.

Hamish Linklater stupendously plays both Cloten, the queen’s son, and Posthumus Leonatus (so named because both his parents are deceased).  The range of acting is great, and I did not realize that Linklater plays both parts.  The two characters are the antithesis of each other and the costume design for each character is different as well as the voices of the two characters. The way Clotus interacts with Imogen made me not even consider that the same person played both parts. The audience can easily identify with Posthumus, while despising Clotus because of Linklater’s delivery of his lines as well as his gesticulations while acting.

Lily Rabe is perfectly cast as Posthumus’s wife and as the sister to her long-lost brothers.  Her love for her banished husband is evident as she gazes into his eyes at the beginning of the play and at the end of the play. The affection that they have for one another sets the stage for the events to follow. Her love for her husband is the impetus for all of her actions that follow.  When she climbs into the grave with the man whom she thought to be her husband,  Posthumus, one could see and feel that she truly loved her husband. The scene was both powerfully acted and directed.  Her actions and Sullivan’s direction serve to beautifully illuminate the scene. The filial love that Imogen has for her brothers, even before she realizes that they are her brothers, is adroitly and tenderly acted as they gain at the end of the drama, the relationship that they should have always had.

Patrick Page, as Cymbeline rages early in the play at his daughter for her oppositional and defiant behavior in marrying the lowly, but gentlemanly Posthumus. The emotion by which he delivers his lines is neither melodramatic nor overwrought, but delivered with enough intensity that the audience feels his choleric temperament. She desires his love and affection, but his furor grips him to the extent that one would wonder if their relationship would be repaired. At the end of the performance, the King is now at peace as he realizes that his sons are alive.  He forgives his daughter for her disobedience when he becomes aware of his queen’s beguilement, Cloten’s deceit, and the extent of Iachimo’s mendacity to deceive Posthumus. This scene is filled with a range of emotions.  We see the King’s regret, Imogen and Posthumus’s love, and the reconcilement of the entire family, minus the two self-absorbed characters, the Queen and her son, Cloten. At the end of the play, the King’s affability has been juxtaposed with his previous irascible temper.

Both the lighting and audio design help transition the audience from scene to scene. The battle scenes are beautifully choreographed with the sound of war orienting the audience to time and place. We  hear muskets and canons firing. There is music similar to “the Battle Hymn of the Republic,”  ushering the audience into the scenes. The sound design is potent and the music is beautifully directed as the drummer plays with great passion during the battle scene. The neon lights during the contemporary dance add stunning brilliance to the scene in which Posthumus and Iachimo meet. They meet in a “bar’ where the wager is made that Iachimo can make Imogen commit infidelity. The lights as well as the music and dance bring a smile to one’s face because of the jazz music and dance of the 40s and 50s. The costume design perfectly matches the glitz and the glamour of the forties. At the end of the performance the dancers all come out on stage dancing what appears to be western style dancing, now that the “West has won” and the war between the British and the Romans is over. Everyone is reconciled and elysium is achieved as the characters move toward a more halcyonic time and place.  It is a cool summer breeze that llifts the audience from the heat’s heaviness.

This performance is a must see, especially because it is seldom performed. The music and the dance as well as all of the creative elements catapult this show to great heights. Please get your tickets today. It will uplift your spirit. The Odyssey will also be performed in the park from September 4-7

Four ways to get tickets:

*Free distribution in Central Park at noon (line starts forming early before 6am.)

*Free virtual ticketing lottery (I’ve never been successful at getting tickets that way.) *

Free downtown lottery distribution at the Public Theater (I’ve never been successful with that either.)

*Skip the line and support free Shakespeare. ( for a sizable donation of $200 )

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