“Someone will definitely say, ‘You can’t call that Shakespeare.’ Someone always does,” says local editor and dramaturge Mead Hunter, a friend of Coleman who has read drafts of the adaptation. But the interpretation of these plays has always been wildly in flux, the “canonical” Shakespeare being merely the result of endless repetition. Relatability and meaning, Hunter says, too often take a back seat to tradition. “This is our heritage,” he adds. “I think we are really quite free to adapt the text as we see fit.”
The authenticity of the play resides instead in the content and the depth of its meaning, rather than its outward form. Coleman finds much to relate to in the Bard’s writing: in 2009, facing a potentially catastrophic budget crisis at the height of the recession, Coleman was forced to lay off the company’s literary department, including Hunter, PCS’s longtime literary director. In 2010, PCS executive director Greg Phillips quit abruptly for an out-of-state job, dropping his administrative duties in Coleman’s lap. And although Coleman has managed to cut the company’s deficit, $4.3 million of PCS’s $40 million renovation of the Armory in 2006 still remains to be paid.
“I’ve had my stomach kicked in a couple times in the last two years, personally and professionally,” Coleman says. “These characters are able to come and say, ‘Well, I’ll let go of that because you did this,’ and there’s something really beautiful about that.”
The essence of that beauty is that it is anything but inevitable. In Shakespeare’s original text, near the end of the play, the Roman god Jupiter intercedes on Posthumus’s behalf, coming to him in a dream and prophesying his and the kingdom’s future happiness. In Coleman’s telling, however, there are no omnipotent gods to guarantee that final bliss or absolution. There is only the Pianist—human, frail, and penitent—whose reflections always seem to suggest that whatever destiny awaits these characters is the product of conscious choice, not divine intervention.
Of course, Coleman (who first read Cymbeline as a bored college student behind the desk at a Days Inn) is not an old man looking back on his life. But his interpretation does have a Jungian bent: that the Bard’s stories are like dreams, delivering information about ourselves that we may not be conscious of. “Yeah, it’s about a lot of people who get wounded, feel betrayed, and it’s not like it all gets tied up at the end,” he says. “But it has something to teach us about our own journey. We are Posthumus, and we are standing with the person who has betrayed us, and we want to kick them or sue them or cut their tires. Can we find the capacity to forgive?”
Or, in the words of Coleman’s Pianist: Some crumble / Some go mad / Some see the way forward.