Lately, the Public Theater has been enjoying remarkable success with the shows being produced at its landmark space in the East Village, including but not limited to the acclaimed musicals “Hamilton” and “Fun Home,” which have both transferred to Broadway.
But at the same time, its annual Shakespeare in the Park productions at the Delacorte Theatre in Central Park are becoming increasingly less interesting and ambitious. Nothing over the past five years has equaled 2008’s “Hair” revival or 2010’s “The Merchant of Venice” with Al Pacino.
Following a disappointing staging of “The Tempest” earlier this summer, now comes a similarly underwhelming “Cymbeline,” Shakespeare’s whimsical and convoluted fairy tale/romance involving a sleeping potion, gender disguise, long-lost children and accusations of adultery, which culminates in a long final scene where one mystery after another is explained away.
As directed by Daniel Sullivan, this “Cymbeline” looks like it was meant for a far smaller space, with just nine actors (most of whom play multiple roles) and a scaled-down set design. Running exactly three hours, it loses steam as it goes along.
The production is eerily reminiscent of the Fiasco Theater’s acclaimed rendition of the play, but that played an intimate space and had a scrappy, youthful spirit that suited the play’s bizarre storytelling.
The cast is led by real-life couple Lily Rabe and Hamish Linklater. Rabe, who was great in “The Merchant of Venice,” comes off as too bitter for the sweet princess Imogen. Linklater is far better as the buffoonish Cloten than as Imogen’s forlorn husband Leonatus. They are joined by a strong supporting cast including Patrick Page, Kate Burton and Raul Esparza.
The Shakespeare in the Park season will end in early September with a four-performance run of “The Odyssey,” in which hundreds of New Yorkers will share the stage with professional actors. It sounds far more exciting than “Cymbeline.”
“Cymbeline” runs through Aug. 23 at Central Park’s Delacorte Theatre. For information on obtaining free tickets, visit publictheater.org.