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A CurtainUp Review

On her left breast, a mole cinque-spotted, like the crimson drops. I' the bottom of a cowslip — Iachimo

Lily Rabe and Hamish Linklater (Photo by Carol)
You can tell from the moment you see Riccardo Hernandez's setting as you enter the Delacorte Theater in Central Park that it will be an evening of fun and surprises. It appears as if a troupe of travelling players has set up shop, their boxes and crates, props and "stuff" are in two large piles that flank a gold proscenium on a raised platform atop a grassy knoll. Behind them are four seated musicians. A large framed sign proclaims: "The Story of Cymbeline" as the company of actors invade the bleachers, greet the people some of whom participate in the play's prologue, adjust their eclectic mix and match, catch-as-catch-can attire (a blend of the comical and whimsical costumes as designed by David Zinn) and assume their temporary identities, under the having-fun-is-all-that-really-matters direction of Daniel Sullivan.

And what fun it is from start to finish for this play that has had/earned a reputation for being not only a bit dopey but a trifle dense to follow. The comedy's convoluted paths and well calculated mis-directions, regardless of whether or not you have your GPS with you, become almost unimportant —, a good thing for a play in which its mainly confounded and mostly disconnected primary lovers, Imogen and Posthumus, journey between England and Italy within a frenzy of mad machinations as set in motion beyond their control.

, That two real-life partners, Lily Rabe and Hamish Linklater, respectively play Imogen and Posthumus is only important in that their considerable on-stage chemistry survives the long stretches in which they are apart. They both ignite the play's comedic moments as pleasurably as they do effectively comply with its painful ones.

For the most part, the actors in Mr. Sullivan's expert hands don't give the darker moments the upper hand and mainly strive to make the merriest lark out of a nasty situation. This is created when Imogen's father King Cymbeline (Patrick Page) and the scheming Queen (Kate Burton) take umbrage (and that's not all)) when they find out that Imogen has secretly wed Posthumus. This puts into question her proposed nuptials to Cloten the Queen's idiot of a son, who happens to also be played by Linklater in a Monty Python wig and clad in biker black leather.

Full disclosure: I am not inclined to laugh at the Bard's buffoons, but Linklater had me and the audience in stitches with his ungainly antics, half-spoken, drool and spit-enhanced speeches and half-retarded responses. Also not confined or constrained playing only one character, Ms. Burton earns laughs firstly as a red-wigged tipsy Queen while looking for the world like Bette Davis as Elizabeth the 1st.

Another cause for joy is the slick/snarky performance of Raul Esparza as a Frank Sinatra stylized Iachimo (yes he sings). As a shifty, underhanded Italian casino gambler in an electric blue suit he bets Posthumus that he can seduce Imogen and bring back proof. That he more honestly seduces the audience with his band-stand crooning isn't hard to imagine. Esparza's instinct for Bard-ian rhythm extends as well to Iachimo's impassioned soliloquy in the sleeping Imogen's bed chamber.

Bravo to composer Tom Kit and the mixture of vocal and instrumental styles (jazz, swing, soft rock) infused into the play. And are you ready for an audience-participating "Hark, Hark the Lark."

The terrific Ms Burton is also ready to re-amuse us quite believably in the role of the exiled Belarious. Notwithstanding her formidable guise, she, along with the twin boys Arviragus (Jacob Ming Trent) and Guiderious (David Furr) whom she snatched from Cymbeline as infants, roam the countryside with resolve until the time is right for their return. Although no longer expecting twins to look alike in Shakespeare, Trent and Furr, both excellent, are a pair for the books.

The time is always right to listen to actors speak the prose and poetry with clarity and this has been achieved beautifully...although not sure what sacrifices in actual text and tempi have been made. One can't be sure whether Sullivan has run wild with this absurd play or he has simply decided to play the wild card to make it just wonderfully absurdist. I also don't think anyone will miss Jupiter's visit from a production in which all the other gods of comedy are surely watching and guiding with glee.

Cymbeline by William Shakespeare Directed by Daniel Sullivan
Cast: Principals: Patrick Page (Cymbeline, Philario), Kate Burton (Queen, Belarius), David Furr (Guiderius), Lily Raber (Imogen), Hamish Linklater (Posthumus, Cloten, Leonatus), Raul Esparza (Iachimo)
Scenic Design: Riccardo Hernandez
Costume Design: David Zinn
Lighting Design: David Lander
Sound Design: Acme Sound Partners
Original Music: Tom Kitt
Choreographer: Mimi Lieber
Production Stage Manager: James Latus
Running Time: 2 hours 45 minutes including intermission
The Public Theater Shakespeare in the Park, at the Delacorte Theater in Central Park
Tickets: Free Performances: Every night at 8 pm
From 07/27/15 Opened 08/10/15 Ends 08/23/15
Review by Simon Saltzman based on performance 08/06/15
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