All these years and this is the first time I attended the Public Theater’s Free Shakespeare in the Park. rtb got tickets and invited me to watch our actor boyfriend Hamish Linklater in Cymbeline . I read the synopsis before leaving the house – it’s a romance with jealousy, mistaken identities, a princess marrying beneath her, her father, King Cymbeline, banishing people from his court, an evil stepmother Queen, and her cloddish son, who wants to be next in line for the throne.
The play opens with the entire cast on stage. Two of the cast members are dressed as Delacorte Theater ushers and they introduce the others on stage. There is audience participation – some of the audience members have been given questions to ask the ushers. The play takes place in ancient Britain but the clothing is all over the place. During the fight scene there are World War I doughboys fighting 19th century Romans. On one side of the stage is a giant cutout of Napoleon on his horse and on the other side is a World War II tank. There is a large proscenium frame and on either side are crates and trunks that double as hills. And, of course, Central Park plays a major role with its trees and lake behind the stage.
Everyone plays more than one part except for Lily Rabe as Imogen (Cymbeline’s daughter). The cast is wonderful. Rabe’s real life co-star, Linklater, plays her husband Posthumus Leonatus and Cloten, the Queen’s son. The love scenes between them are real and heart-felt. Linklater was both heroic and heart-broken as Posthumus and arrogant and clumsy as Cloten. During many of the scenes the actors would sit in the back, especially if they were needed to come on stage during that scene or the one after. During Rabe’s wonderful tour de force, where she finds out that Posthumus wants her killed because he believes that she has been unfaithful, Linklater sat backstage (even though he didn’t need to be there) completely enamored.
The play is funny and dramatic. There are breaks for some songs. A stand-out was Raúl Esparza as Iachino, who makes his entrance dressed as a 1920s gangster singing like a 1960s lounge singer. He drips with sleaze as he unsuccessfully attempts to seduce Imogen but manages to hide in her bedchamber and make up a good enough story that Posthumus believes that Imogen has betrayed him.
Kate Burton was another stand-out as both the Queen and Belarius, an old friend of the King, who had been banished from court. Patrick Page is both Cymbeline and Philario, an old friend of Posthumus’ father and Posthumus’ host in Rome. David Furr and Jacob Ming-Trent are the Delacorte ushers turned Cymbeline’s long-lost sons and also gentlemen of the court. Teagle F. Bougere bungles about as Cornelius the court doctor and stands proud as the Lucius the Roman ambassador to the British court. Steve Skybell has a small but memorable part as a French friend of Philario and is even more memorable as Pisiano (Posthumus’ servant).
There are musical interludes and background music provided by musical director Matt Gallagher (keyboard, accordion), Eric Davis (guitars, banjo), Trey Files (percussion), and Ben Lively (violin, bass, mandolin). All the music fit in beautifully and at the end of the play there was a rousing dance performed by all the cast members.
What a perfect way to spend a summer evening.
By Carene Lydia Lopez