Shakespeare titled his late romance Cymbeline, and words emblazoned on the back curtain at this Shakespeare in the Park production read, “The Story of Cymbeline.”
But this often absurd tale of innocent love belongs more to slandered daughter Imogen (Lily Rabe) than to her royal father in the title role. The Delacorte’s mainstay director Daniel Sullivan offers a boppy but not particularly introspective look at Imogen’s distress.
His do-no-harm approach keeps things jokey and works hard to entertain, adding enough song-and-dance numbers to please the most attention-deficient groundling. (Raúl Esparza, who makes a delightfully raffish villain as Iachimo, owns the show after entering with a swaggering Vegas-style number.)
Rabe plays opposite Hamish Linklater, who doubles as Imogen’s besotted husband Posthumus and his dimwitted rival Cloten. Both members of the amiable acting duo — often seen center stage at the Delacorte — bring their winning personalities and good sport to the task, though they frequently hold the verse hostage to their contemporary inflections.
They’re hardly the only actors to work the language for laugh value, but hey, it’s the park, it’s August, and populism prevails over subtlety. (Plus, the cast boasts a coterie of appealing folks in supporting roles.) Cymbeline‘s poetic dimensions are notoriously well cached, and Sullivan’s colorful mounting does little to bring them out.
But when Imogen, betrayed, finally cries out, “What is it to be false?” we spot just enough pain behind the romantic shenanigans for a midsummer night.
By William Shakespeare
Shakespeare in the Park
Delacorte Theater (in Central Park)
Central Park West at 81st Street