Shakespeare's The Winter's Tale is justifiably one of the "problem plays." Director Eric Parness (who also adapted) made a valiant effort to connect the play's romantic, dramatic, and comic elements by making the character "Time" a kind of all-seeing and all-knowing figure who has a hand in much of the action, but this was only intermittently successful. Yet when it didn't wholeheartedly fall into the holes Shakespeare has dug (what exactly is eating Leontes, anyway?) the production was quite appealing.
Leontes (William Laney), king of Sicilia, is consumed with jealousy - his lovely wife Hermione (Christine Verleny) is paying too much attention to Polixenes (Patrick Melville), king of Bohemia. Well, either this husband and wife have a history we know nothing about, or maybe Leontes is livid at not getting any from his wife - she's heavily pregnant. Laney gnashed his teeth in real anger and rage and insecurity, but that's all there was to it. Is Leontes manic-depressive? Psychotic? Suffering from indigestion? Our friend Time (Stewart Walker) seemed to be in charge of Leontes's emotions, but although the result was clear, the why was muddy.
And this colored much of the rest of the play. Camillo (Roland Johnson) is dispatched unwillingly to kill Polixenes; Leontes is not moved when presented with his new baby; the oracle is consulted and its truth denied; the Queen is reported dead. Yes, but why why why? (Well, Shakespeare's name is on the play, so let's give it benefit of doubt.) There were some scenes as lovely and wondrous as any in the canon - it was as a romance that this Tale worked best. This was due chiefly to the sympathetic Johnson; the sweet, warm and regal Verleny; and an outstanding performance by Jennifer Holmes as Emilia. There were wonderfully recognizable moments of feeling that came between the lines rather than their reciting, most specifically from Donovan Johnson's Antigonus when he was being lambasted by Leontes, and later when he left the baby in the storm in Bohemia. "Time" watched this happen, and he also very effectively was the storm, in a fine bit of staging.
The second half, 16 years later, brought an excellent comic performance from Lou Talley as the Shepherd, and one almost as good from Ledger Free as his son. Okay, they benefited from Bohemia's being a brighter, more colorful country - Sicilia was a dreary place, lighting was lower, and everyone wore black or gray costumes, while the Bohemians wore, uh, Bohemian garb - but Talley and Free had a freedom with the language that was not always present in others. As Perdita, Jennifer Larkin was well-spoken, but she seemed more worldly and weary than the enchantress she's made out to be; Brad Fryman got every moment of Autolycus as if it had been written for a known comedian of the time, and was most effective.
S. Kim Glassman's simple set was whatever Pamela Kupper's lighting and David Rigler's costumes made it out to be, and this smoothed out some of the productions rougher edges. Director Parness worked better with set pieces (the opening as a party scene, the storm, the Shepherd and his son, and some extended second-half comedy routines) than the play as a whole, but The Winter's Tale is not an easy assignment.
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Copyright 2001 David Mackler