If you're thinking that Shakespeare never released a greatest-hits play, you've never seen Cymbeline. Then again, that wouldn't put you in a very elite group, since this late (1610 or 1611) romance is one of the Bard's least-produced works. Its title character is king of the British Celts in the first century AD, and he's facing invasion by the Roman forces of Emperor Caesar Augustus, but Rule Britannia takes a back seat to melodrama and magic in this tale of a banished lord, two royal sons stolen from their nursery, a wicked stepmother and her cloddish son, a royal daughter who marries against her father's wishes, a girl dressing up as a boy, and the testing of the faithful wife. At the new Storefront on Elm space (it used to be Jimmy Tingle's Off Broadway Theater) in Davis Square, as directed by Doug Lockwood, Actors' Shakespeare Project gives an extroverted, emotional reading (through February 20) that's accessible, poignant, and often funny but doesn't penetrate to the heart of the play's spiritual rebirth.
BARD LITE Brooke Hardman and De’Lon Grant pare Shakespeare’s characterizations down to a bare, if affecting, bone.
Part of the problem here is the Bard's concept of time. Shakespeare's four last plays (if we exclude Henry VIII) - Pericles, Cymbeline, The Winter's Tale, and The Tempest - spin out stories of death and resurrection, of lost and found, often over a span of decades. They were likely written for the proscenium stage of Blackfriars Theatre, for an indoor audience that had settled in to enjoy a full evening's entertainment.
Even by that standard, Cymbeline is overstuffed. The king has married a second time, and he was hoping that his daughter, Princess Innogen, would marry the queen's son, Cloten, even though Cloten is such a dolt that the dullest groundling would see straight through him. Innogen has instead married the noble but poor Posthumus, who, being banished for his crime, hies himself abroad and wagers that Italian stallion Iachimo can't seduce his wife. Iachimo resorts to the hoary ploy of hiding in a trunk, then popping out in Innogen's bedchamber and stealing a bracelet (and a peek at her breast) while she sleeps, thus convincing Posthumus (who's not much smarter than Cloten, it turns out) that he's succeeded. The rest practically writes itself: Posthumus disowns Innogen; Innogen runs away, dons manly attire, and joins the invading Roman legions; the banished lord and the king's two sons turn up; Cloten tries to kill Posthumus but is instead dispatched by one of the sons; Innogen takes a powder and is thought to be dead but isn't; Posthumus and the sons save Cymbeline from the Romans; the queen dies, Iachimo confesses, all identities are revealed, and everyone is reconciled and forgiven.
, Doug Lockwood, Marya Lowry, Celtic, More