Mark Lamos gets through "Cymbeline" without painting himself into any corners. If only he had. Instead, with the help of a top-notch design team and a somewhat baffled cast, the dependably picturesque director has planted himself in the middle of the room, far from the weird angles and vertiginous gaps that make "Cymbeline" such an odd and potentially spellbinding play.
The only description that could do justice to this potted melodrama comes from that old blowhard Polonius, who reports to his Elsinore comrades that a traveling troupe has planned a "tragical-comicalhistorical-pastoral" performance. One of Shakespeare's least loved efforts, "Cymbeline" arrives at a familiar destination (reunited lovers, the removal of genderconcealing disguises, warring factions tamed by young love) through ludicrously complicated means, including the Act V arrival of the god Jupiter on an enormous golden eagle.
George Bernard Shaw took matters into his own hands in 1937, ditching the entire fifth act and rewriting it from scratch. But even he ultimately hailed "Cymbeline" as "a versified masque, in Shakespear's careless woodnotes wild." And in a particularly fruitful year that has seen exemplary Shakespeare productions by Darko Tresnjak ("The Merchant of Venice"), Daniel Sullivan ("A Midsummer Night's Dream"), and Edward Hall ("The Taming of the Shrew"), each of whom took gambles with far sturdier plays, Mr. Lamos has decided not to fix a work that is endearingly broken. From Jess Goldstein's resplendent medieval costumes to Brian MacDevitt's painterly lighting to the vaguely stuffy British elocutions that stymie such seasoned performers as John Cullum and Martha Plimpton, this handsome but bloodless mounting strikes the Bard's woodnotes with too much care and not nearly enough wildness.
Mr. Cullum's British king may be the play's title character, but the emotional center rests with his stalwart daughter, Imogen (Ms. Plimpton), believed to be his only living child. Rather than marry Cloten (Adam Dannheisser), the doltish son of Cymbeline's conniving new wife (Phylicia Rashad), Imogen has married a commoner named Posthumus, albeit a commoner raised in the royal household.
Posthumus is banished to Rome, whereupon he gets into a bet with the villainous Iachimo (Jonathan Cake) over Imogen's purity. Before long, Iachimo is sneaking around in Imogen's bedchamber, the queen is doling out "most poisonous compounds," the Roman army is stirring up trouble, a few new heirs have surfaced in Wales, and Cloten is banging around the forest in Posthumus's clothes.
Establishing a throughline that can prop up these wildly discordant threads is the challenge, one Mr. Lamos only halfheartedly addresses. Perhaps this stems from his recent efforts directing opera, with its implicit strata of recitatives that exist largely to prop up the arias. Or perhaps the relative unfamiliarity of the play's soliloquies, particularly those for the beguiling Imogen, resulted in a disproportionate amount of rehearsal devoted to these set pieces.
Whatever the reason, one performer after the next does creditable work with his or her major speeches, only to coast through the material before and after. As compellingly as Mr. Cerveris delivers Posthumus's two central soliloquies — wherein he first savages Imogen for a perceived infidelity and later seeks expiation through battle — the material leading up to them feels thin and unsupported. Similarly, Ms. Plimpton — whose command of Helena in this summer's "A Midsummer Night's Dream" in Central Park was a joy to watch — forces too many early scenes. The impulse to make Imogen more impulsive and less sage at first is a valid one, but it results in her pushing the pentameter in search of a "girlish" cadence.
Ms. Rashad's campy queen and Mr. Cullum's blustery king meet with even less success, and Mr. Dannheisser suffers through some deadly comic trios before finally coming into his own. Only two minor performers, John Pankow as Imogen's conflicted servant and David Furr as the bloodthirstier of her newfound brothers, find the pulse of the production from start to finish.
Not long after a disguised and exhausted Imogen has linked up with the rustics who will turn out to be her long-lost family, she pleads with them not to dote on her, explaining that "the breach of custom / Is breach of all." There's nothing wrong with Mr. Lamos's eminently classy, crisply elocuted, lamentably customary production that a few breaches couldn't fix.
Until January 6 (Lincoln Center, 212-239-6200).