Shakespeare in the Park from the Public Theater.
Last week, on a Monday when the weather was calling for rain most of the afternoon and evening, my friends and I attempted to get tickets for Shakespeare in the Park’s production of the much ignored Cymbeline. I don’t recall ever seeing or even hearing a production of this play. Regardless, Shakespeare in the Park is just one of the most glorious things to do on a summer’s night in NYC. But, we were not going to sit in lines in this heat, so we did the lottery both virtually and in person at the Public Theater downtown at lunchtime. Miraculously we got a combined total of six tickets, and with the weather looking rainy, we celebrated with an optimism that was uncalled for, and organized a picnic overlooking the lovely lake and castle outside the Delacorte Theater in Central Park.
But the Bard gods were with us, and it was a beautiful warm summer night, with a lovely breeze. No rain fell on us as we wined and dined on a blanket getting ready for some Shakespeare. We had one of us read a synopsis of the story since none of us had ever seen or read this play before, surprisingly, and I must say we were a bit overwhelmed. It seemed to be a pretty dark piece of story telling. Murderous plots, poisonings, beheading, rape, seductions solely to destroy honor, and power hungry villains. And it clocked in at over three hours. What have we gotten ourselves into?
I jokingly said, “This is a comedy, right?? And a musical, right?”
And we all laughed and laughed. Little did I know…..
Written by Shakespeare in the early 1600’s, Cymbeline was based on the legends of the Celtic British King Cunobeline. It was initially listed as one of Shakespeare’s tragedies, modern critics have classified it more as a romance, dealing with the themes of love, chastity, innocence, and jealousy. Once again, this did sound like it was going to be a long dark night of intense theatre. Or so we thought.
Directed by Daniel Sullivan, this production of Cymbeline is a whole lot of fun. Our first indication was a rather unique beginning that caught me off guard. Surprised and thrown off, I was curious what this really was going to be like. And then in strolls Raul Esparza (Taboo, Company, Speed-the-Plow). And he begins to sing and dance like a slick sexy Vegas con man, accompanied by a unrecognizable Lily Rabe doing double duty as a hot long legged dancing cocktail waitress. This was no tragedy, this was going to be a funny, sexy, inventive, romantic surprise of a play, and I was thrilled.
Everyone does Shakespeare proud. Lily Rabe (Seminar, Steel Magnolias, American Horror Story) is just wonderful as Imogen, Cymbeline’s daughter. I feel in love. Hamish Linklater (Much Ado About Nothing, Seminar, The New Adventures of Old Christine) is just spectacular as both the loving, jealous, and loving Posthumus, Imogen’s husband, and as the awful, arrogant, ridiculous Cloten, the Queen’s son by a former husband. Kate Burton (Company, Spring Awakening, The Elephant Man) is a delight as the evil drunk Queen and perfect as the banished lord, Belarius. And I just think Raul Esparza is the best; funny, charming, dastardly, delicious. I could go on, listing each person along side lovely adjectives but all I’ll say is those 3+ hours flew by. And I could try to explain more of the plot, but why confuse things. Just know it all makes sense, in the end, in that Shakespearian way. And we are left happy and fulfilled.
It’s as if Shakespeare looked at Romeo and Juliet and thought, what if I wrote something similar, where all’s well that ends well? What would that look like? And so here we have it. Happy Endings from the Bard. Thank you.