Windup for the New Jersey Shakespeare Theater’s 44th season finds “Cymbeline,” often considered Shakespeare’s most elusive and convoluted plot, sprawled out on a visually stunning canvas. In addition to the production’s intoxicating appearance, with its picture-book costumes and flexible set design, the play gets a boost from director Joe Discher, who clearly trusts the text and its motives. From the Bard’s last quarto, the problematic play is both a romance and an outrageous comedy of errors, with a trio of interweaving plots of concealed identities, dark villainy, broad buffoonery and even a military skirmish.
Discher approaches the work like something of a visionary, assembling the elements as he might a sprawling mosaic. If the audience successfully picks up the teasing clues of the first act, it ultimately will be treated to the cunning revelations of the second half, boasting perhaps the longest played-out resolution in Shakespeare’s canon.
The centerpiece of the play is not Cymbeline, King of Britain (Richard Bourg), but his feisty daughter, Imogen (Charlotte Parry), who has married a poor but worthy gentleman against her father’s wishes. Parry plays the hapless yet practical princess with gentle resolve, transitioning from demure royalty to a woman who runs into the woods disguised as a young boy with airy delight. With long blond locks dancing on her shoulders, she’s the image of Herbert Schmalz’s portrait of Imogen at the Folger Shakespeare Library, reproduced on the theater program cover.
The malevolent cad Cloten, son to the queen, is the principal villain, played perhaps a tad too broadly by Mark H. Dold. Yet he makes his comic point, even at the loss of his head.
The rather unrewarding role of the power-hungry queen is acted with extravagant flourish by Delphi Harrington. On the other hand, Bourg plays the angry ruler and title character with crusty authority and a rumbling anger that only mellows when he’s reunited with his long-lost sons.
Robert Gomes as the scheming seducer Iachimo and David Wilson’s banished bridegroom Posthumus register distinctively.
Director Discher has a gift for creating vivid and handsome stage pictures, and he manages to invest a clarity in this muddled plot. He also balances humor and romance with the grotesque in a deftly appealing manner.
Brian Ruggaber’s design is governed by a pair of mobile twin ivory staircases, trimmed in crimson, that provide scenic unity against plush curtains. The stark and functional setting sans clutter serves to illuminate the action.