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Set rendering by Riccardo Hernandez.
by Rebecca Bayla Taichman
Cymbeline tells multiple powerful and interlocking stories. At its heart is one of Shakespeare’s greatest heroines: the whip-smart, brave, and tender Imogen. Before the play begins, Imogen has eloped with her love Posthumus, a commoner. When Cymbeline, Imogen’s father and the King of Britain, banishes Posthumus in response to the marriage, Imogen sets out on a dangerous journey to reunite with him, even as war rages around them. As Britain and Rome fight an ego-driven battle for primacy and power, the young Imogen struggles to hold onto her sense that love must survive despite all the forces bent on destroying it.
Thematically, Cymbeline wrestles with the idea of transformation from a deathlike state to rebirth, and celebrates the cleansing power of reconciliation and love. In order to illustrate this, we’ve sought in the design to make vivid the struggle for survival of the natural and organic in a man-made, materialistic world. Toxins are infiltrating every living thing. Nature, purity, and innocence are threatened at every turn.
The play swerves wildly between tones—from comedy to tragedy, and from tragedy back to comedy. It feels like Shakespeare is making a wild bid for freedom as he shrugs off the rules of tonal consistency, of simple logic and even of the mortal world. In order to navigate this wild and sprawling story, I’ve chosen to add the frame of a storyteller and a little girl. Cymbeline calls to mind the classic dark fairy tales, and I’m leaning into this aspect through the framing device. As the psychologist Bruno Bettelheim so brilliantly articulated in his book The Uses of Enchantment, fairy tales help to prepare children for the pain of life, which accounts for the insistent dark undertones and violence found in those tales. Like the best of fairy tales, Cymbeline feels elemental, enchanted, fantastical and also deeply scary.
I hope you will tumble with us into the beautiful, terrifying, strange and restless world that is Cymbeline.