Theater Reviews

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Vivian Beaumont Theater, New York
Through Jan. 6

William Shakespeare's "Cymbeline," with its endlessly convoluted and fantastical plot, is one of the most difficult of the Bard's works to stage successfully.

This late romance, which contains allusions to characters and situations from many of the previous plays, is beautifully rendered in the Lincoln Center Theater's highly lucid and often enthralling production. Directed by Mark Lamos, it manages to be suitably intimate and yet grand enough for the vast expanses of the Vivian Beaumont stage.

Indeed, the opening tableaux, with every member of the large ensemble standing in formation while the portentous musical score blares, recalls the theater's last tenant, the multipart epic "The Coast of Utopia."

The problematic work, featuring the usual Shakespearean components of mistaken identities, attempted seductions, cross-dressing, political intrigues and extravagant battles, features a climactic scene that is so daring in its sheer ludicrousness that it is more delightful than ridiculous. At one earlier point, it takes nothing less than an intervention by the god Jupiter to sort out the unholy mess.

The basic plot has to do with the banishment from England of Posthumus (Michael Cerveris), the upright but poor secret husband of British King Cymbeline's (John Cullum) daughter Imogen (Martha Plimpton). She had been promised to Cloten (Adam Dannheisser), the loutish son of the conniving queen (Phylicia Rashad).

While in Italy, Posthumus comes into unfortunate contact with the evil Iachimo (Jonathan Cake) -- think Iago -- who makes a wager with him that he can seduce the virtuous Imogen. This sets into motion an increasingly bizarre series of events that eventually come to include the involvement of Cymbeline's sons, unknown to him, who are being raised by a banished Briton, Belarius (Paul O'Brien), in the forest.

Lamos' staging manages to well encompass the many stylistic divergences of the play, including its deeply mournful and broadly comic aspects. The latter is particularly exemplified in Dannheisser's highly amusing turn as the buffoonish but still menacing Cloten.

The leading performers handle their complicated assignments well. Plimpton and Cerveris are deeply moving as the star-crossed lovers, Cullum injects a genuine pathos into his turn as the deceived king, and Rashad plays the wicked queen with a sly wit. Cake's intense Iachimo is beautifully spoken and surprisingly complex, with the buff actor being given numerous opportunities to showcase his sculpted physique. Herb Foster, John Pankow and O'Brien are among those in shine in supporting roles.

The large-scale production, featuring soaring sets by Michael Yeargan, gorgeous costumes by Jess Goldstein and versatile lighting by Brian MacDevitt, provides constant visual delights.

CYMBELINE
Presented by the Lincoln Center Theater
Credits:
Playwright: William Shakespeare
Director: Mark Lamos
Set designer: Michael Yeargan
Costume designer: Jess Goldstein
Lighting designer: Brian MacDevitt
Original music: Mel Marvin
Sound: Tony Smolenski, Walter Trarbach
Cast:
Princess Imogen: Martha Plimpton
Iachimo: Jonathan Cake
Cymbeline: John Cullum
Posthumus: Michael Cerveris
Queen: Phylicia Rashad
Cloten: Adam Dannheisser
Cornelius/Ghost: Herb Foster
Belarius: Paul O'Brien
Philario/Jupiter: Daniel Oreskes
Pisanio: John Pankow
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