Despite varied reviews on The Public Theatre’s Cymbeline, we were blown away by the whimsy, ingenuity and overall fun of the production. Cymbeline, a play most directors don’t touch with a ten foot pole, was thoughtfully executed capturing the true melodramatic nature of the text and circumstance. Embodied by a fine ensemble of actors and directed brilliantly by Daniel Sullivan, Cymbeline will tickle your funnybone and touch your heart with its music, aesthetic and of course, message.
While the title refers to King Cymbeline, the real stars of the show are Princess Imogen and Posthumus, who are marvelously brought to life by Tony-nominated (and American Horror Story alum) Lily Rabe and Hamish Linklater. These two simply soar and inject passionate energy every moment they are on stage. Rabe provides a feisty spirit to a character who could veer too prim and proper, all the while still maintaining her innocence that Imogen is noted for having. Linklater is one of several actors who double their roles, as he takes on both Imogen’s lover Posthumus and her betrothed lover/stepbrother Cloten. He effortlessly balances both characters by making them distinctly different (and with the aid of a silly wig reminiscent of Moe a la the 3 Stooges), while also exposing the similarities and differences between the two. This combination provides an intriguing antithesis of each of their relationships with the princess. Linklater is absolutely hysterical as the Queen’s dimwitted son, punching all of the correct moments to elicit laughs, while also sweet, strong, and heroic as Posthumus. His morning woo-ing song left the audience in stitches for a long while!
Raul Esparza is a deliciously evil Iachimo, decked out in a gangster-esque suit at the poker table in Italy. He exudes a despicable and cunning air as he wagers with Posthumus that he can seduce his virtuous and loyal Imogen. Esparza, who has a wide range of credits in theatre, film, and television, is able to show off his extraordinary singing skills thanks to music provided by Tom Kitt (Next to Normal).
This adaptation of Cymbeline is driven by its modern folk rock score which kept your feet tapping the entire duration of the play. Mimi Lieber choreographs bright and bonnie dances that mirror the lighthearted nature of this melodrama. Overall, Sullivan has assembled and directed an amazing team of actors and coached them brilliantly to bring to light one of Shakespeare’s “problem pieces”. It was certainly melodramatic, all the while seeing two sides to every story from the way he doubled the characters. The play is about forgiveness and trust and we certainly saw that culminate through all the journeys reaching their end at the conclusion of the play.
When one thinks of Shakespeare the likes of Romeo and Juliet or A Midsummer Night’s Dream usually come to mind. The late-romance of Cymbeline is not as well-known, and yet this production has gotten one of the most well-received reactions from an audience we have ever experienced. The laughs were long and constant and everyone rose to their feet in the concluding dance of an amazing evening. Head on over to the Delacorte and share the joy of love and language!
Review By: Brittany Goodwin
Photos By: Michelle V. Agins