Shakespeare’s Cymbeline is a Rodney Dangerfield of the Bard’s canon. In Samuel Johnson’s view, to discuss this oddball confection is “to waste criticism upon unresisting imbecility, upon faults too evident for detection, and too gross for aggravation.” Other equally distinguished critics have been not much kinder to Shakespeare’s mad, meandering tale of ancient British intrigue.
No matter. On Saturday night I went to Manhattan’s Barrow Street to watch the Fiasco Theater’s production of this generally unloved effort. I’d seen Fiasco’s delightful take on Twelfth Night in a small, elevator-access theater on a stifling summer night last year under conditions so torrid (the air conditioning had failed) that the charming and exuberant cast turned the wind-machine on the audience during the intermission, and at the end thanked us for sticking it out in the heat. There was no need. Some evenings are worth melting for.
Under the circumstances the chance to check out what this enterprising bunch had made of Cymbeline was not to be missed. Mind you, it probably helped that I had neither seen, nor read, this play before. If I had…
In any event, Fiasco’s six-person Cymbeline is a marvelously acted, highly imaginative triumph, sly, sweet and bizarre with moments of the magic that theater often promises, but rarely delivers, underwritten by a sense of the absurd that turned the final scene into a screwball feast that might even have made Hamlet chuckle.
Let’s put it this way: this was one of the three best Shakespeares that I have seen in two decades in New York, and the other two starred Jean-Luc Picard in two of my favorite plays.