The feet of the thrust stage were strewn with assorted dusty objects which on closer observation, as the audience settled, were seen to be various theatrical props: masks, crowns, stage swords, a skull, all suggesting an old theater’s attic. The lights dimmed, the music was cued, and half a dozen actors entered and proceeded to employ these props in a choreographed dumb show alluding to familiar scenes from other Shakespeare plays: Romeo’s and Juliet’s aubade and suicides, Bottom with his ass’s head, Hamlet with Yorick’s skull, and more. This wordless prelude was meant to suggest director Bart DeLorenzo’s notion, stated in the program (and used to promote this less well-known play in the theater’s advertising materials), that Cymbeline is “a literary fairy tale” composed out of “borrowings from past plays.”
This conceit seemed to fade into the background once the play started, but one of DeLorenzo’s other ideas for the play reaped continuing rewards. With the signal exception of Imogen, who herself plays two different “characters” in the play, each of the central roles was paired with another and both played by the same actor; two younger actors played four roles each. Thus, the same actor, Adam Hass Hunter, played Posthumus [End Page 300] and Cloten; Andrew Elvis Miller played both Iachimo and Caius Lucius; Joel Swetow played Cymbeline and Philario; Time Winters played Pisanio and the Gaoler; and (most fantastically) Francia DiMase played the Queen and Belarius. As DeLorenzo wrote in his program notes, once one tries to do this, it appears as if the play had been written with such a stratagem in mind. With one minor exception, the characters in these pairs never appear on stage together, even, most oddly, Imogen’s two competing suitors, who are adopted half-brothers and inhabit the same court (a small adjustment is necessary in the final scene to keep Iachimo and Lucius from appearing together). Moreover, the pairings highlighted the contrasts between these characters in ways that suggested interesting thematic and psychological insights.
The doublings of Posthumus and Cloten and of Iachimo and Caius Lucius were the most fruitful. As Posthumus, Hunter, plainly dressed, suggested not just the character’s steadfastness but also the stiff and faintly nationalistic air of self-righteousness that goads Iachimo to challenge him to the wager. (Swetow’s older Philario clearly saw the mistake both younger men were making and vainly tried to dissuade or distract them.) By contrast, Hunter played Cloten as a broadly comic fop, physically awkward and decked out in an almost psychedelic Cavalier courtier’s outfit, with a nimbus of frizzed and styled red hair (a crucial prop later in the play). As played by Hunter, the characters seemed not just to have different personalities but to exist in entirely different plays, even as they shared a common streak of pride. This confusion of the comic and the tragic, or at least the melodramatic, reflected the broader complexity of tone of the whole play, which reaches its extremity in the death of Cloten. To kill such a comical lightweight violates the contract of comedy, and to bring first his head and then his headless body onto the stage seems to thrust this flaunting of decorum in the audience’s face. DeLorenzo resolved this dissonance in favor of the comic: the head itself looked like an amateurish Halloween prop (timely for an autumn production), and the device of the huge mass of red frizzy hair created a ghoulish moment of comic recognition. The dragging on of the body was also accompanied by small laughs and groans from the audience, encouraged by...