NEW YORK - Lincoln Center has mounted a gorgeous production of the rarely seen
one of Shakespeare's four late "Romances." Despite its complicated plots and subplots, despite its shifts from love to politics, from Britain to Italy, from court to forest, it is both moving and fascinating.
A Romance usually turns out to mean a tragedy with a happy ending, a triumph over the stupidities and cruelties and errors in judgment that have led other characters in Shakespeare's plays to disaster: manipulative men seducing husbands into jealous, murderous rage; tyrannical fathers ordering their daughters to marry the wrong man; well-meaners using potions that simulate death; conniving queens; dangerously doltish princes; and foolish kings.
The princess Imogen (another triumph for the splendid Martha Plimpton) has secretly married Posthumus (Michael Cerveris in a really bad wig). Her father, Cymbeline (John Cullum) wants her to marry his stepson Cloten (Adam Dannheisser), an idiot hothead if ever there was one, at the urging of the queen (Phylicia Rashad).
Posthumus is banished to Italy, where he walks into a society so louche and devious that this noble Briton is in way over his head. When Posthumus brags about Imogen's virtue, Iachimo (supersexy Jonathan Cake) taunts/lures him into a bet that he can seduce her
Several other plot strands are woven into the story: Imogen's brothers, kidnapped when babies, turn up as noble savages in the forest; Britain and the Roman empire go to war; and mistaken identities (caused here not only by clothes but by a beheading!) abound. When human beings have made as big a mess of things as possible, Jupiter takes pity on them and flies in on a spectacular eagle to sort things out.
The costumes (Jess Goldstein) are sumptuous, and the set is a beauty (Michael Yeargan has framed the play with an ornate golden proscenium which morphs into treelike pillars to make a forest.) Brian MacDevitt's lighting design of starry nights and dappled sunshine is a pleasure and wonder to watch.
Shakespeare's relevance continues to amaze, especially in a play so filled with fairytale and mythic elements that it seems to exist in a once-upon-a-time, far-far-away realm. Various themes emerge: the mindless waste of war; the perils of nationalism; the danger of following immoral orders; but, most clearly, the need for forgiveness.
At the end, after all the adventures are recounted, all the guilts confessed, and all the evils repented, Cymbeline tells them: "Pardon's the word to all." It's a holiday show, after all: What better outcome than peace on earth, goodwill to men?
Written by William Shakespeare. Directed by Mark Lamos. Sets by Michael Yeargan, costumes by Jess Goldstein, lighting by Brian MacDevitt, original music by Mel Marvin, sound by Tony Smolenski IV and Walter Trarbach.
Cast: John Cullum (Cymbeline), Phylicia Rashad (Queen), Jonathan Cake (Iachimo), Michael Cerveris (Posthumus), John Pankow (Pisanio), Martha Plimpton (Imogen), Paul O'Brien (Belarius), Adam Dannheisser (Cloten).
Playing at: Vivian Beaumont Theater at Lincoln Center (150 W. 65 St., New York) Tickets $65-90. Information: 212-239-6200, or www.lct.org.