Cymbeline, American Players Theater, 08-29-04
Our final expedition to American Players Theatre at Spring Green this season was to see the Sunday matinee of Shakespeare's 'Cymbeline'. I was particularly interested in this rarely performed play as it is among those I've never seen. (One of my ambitions in life is to see a performance of every one of Shakespeare's plays. So far, I'm weak in the History plays. APT has been our usual source, and those kept getting rained out on us for some reason--.) I was rather surprised to see in the director's notes that it is one of Shakespeare's later works. The rather harum-scarum plot with its headless body, spirits and the intervention of Jove seems more like something from an earlier day. On the other hand, we see very common mature Shakespearian elements, such as the heroine disguising herself as a boy, and the false accusation of a virtuous woman, which makes me think that perhaps the Bard needed a light piece in a hurry and threw together slapdash what he knew to be a collection of can't-miss elements.
Despite the title, the main characters of the play are Imogen, daughter of Cymbeline, King of Britain, and Posthumous, a young and poor nobleman of the king's household. Imogen has secretly married the virtuous Posthumous, which pleases everyone except the King, who prefers for dynastic reasons that she marry Cloton, the son of the current Queen. Posthumous is banished in hopes she'll change her mind. While abroad, he unwisely places a wager on Imogen's chastity, and Iachino falsifies evidence that he has slept with Imogen to win the bet. Enraged, Posthumous orders his servant Pisanio to slay Imogen. Instead, the loyal servant, like the Huntsman in "Snow White", aids Imogen to flee, and sends a bloodied portion of her garment to Posthumous as "proof" the deed has been done. Imogen disguises herself as a boy while hiding out, and the remorseful Posthumous joins a Roman force invading Britain to seek death in battle. The remainder of the plot deals with how they come back together, complicated by the machinations of the wicked Queen and her odious son, Cymbeline's own sons who were stolen in infancy, ghosts, gods, and several instances of mistaken identity.
Given all the action in this play it would be a bit much to expect deep characterization, but the main roles were played well and with life by Amy Hutchins and Gerard Neugent. They were supported with customary ability by the senior members of the cast: Jonathan Smoots kingly as Cymbeline, Sarah Day sinister as the Queen, Mark Corkins stalwart as Morgan/Belarius the old soldier, and Paul Bentzen fussy and absent minded as Dr. Cornelius. Jim De Vita filled in a number of small parts including "Jove." Other standout performances included: Scott Hayden as Cloten, by turns quarrelsome, cowardly, vain, vengeful, letcherous, and altogether hapless; and C. Michaal Wright as the put-upon servant Pisanio. It also seemed that Bryan Hicks (who plays Othello this season) took great pleasure in putting the shoe on the other foot as the would-be seducer and slanderer Iachino. The fight choreography of the battle scene, with its Morris-dance inspired stave work, set the piece firmly in Mythic Britain.
The director's notes indicate that "Cymbeline" has sometimes been classed as a tragedy, a comedy, or a romance. Classically, it is a comedy, since it has a happy ending, and the Players definitely chose to play it for comedy, although with a light touch that didn't entirely defuse the characters' woes.
Another excellent production by APT, and a great deal of fun for all.