Theater Ten Ten's charming and well-acted production of The Winter's Tale managed to smooth over many of the difficult patches in Shakespeare's fascinating but problematic romance by gilding them with a clever aesthetic conceit. Director Tom Rowan staged the play as if it were a page out of a Victorian children's book. When young Mamillius (played on alternating nights by Jonah Meyerson and Justin Thomas Riordan) entered, he carried a large storybook, splitting his attention between the onstage court intrigues and the words on the page. By the time he himself had entered Shakespeare's narrative, it was as if the two worlds had merged. This impression was reinforced by the waistcoats and petticoats that adorned the actors and the elaborate but two-dimensional triptych of a proscenium.
The fairytale feel of the production may have undermined the tragedy of the first act somewhat, but this was largely overcome by the commitment and skill of the actors, most notable the formidable Michael Mendelson whose Leontes was all rage and repentance, wrapped in velvet elegance. Elisabeth Zambetti's Hermione was similarly compelling in her confusion at her husband's perplexing jealousy.
The play's sudden transitions to pastoral comedy and farfetched romance were rendered easier to swallow by Rowan's concept, and by the complicity of his designers. Joanne M. Haas's costumes, in particular, helped delineate clearly between Sicilia and Bohemia while still maintaining the sense of a single, cohesive reality. Set designer Kari Martin and lighting designer Shannon Schweitzer worked together to bridge the disparate worlds of the play by using simple but flexible flats and scrims. Composer Jason Wynn contributed polished and evocative original music, for both onstage dances and incidental entr'actes.
The stock characters that inhabit rustic Bohemia were mostly rounded out and enlivened by the actors. Brian Houtz lent the sweet and simple shepherd's son an infectious enthusiasm, while Nicole Nanzarella brought an intelligence and moral consciousness to the ingénue Perdita that might have been overlooked by another actress. David Arthur Bacharach was in great voice as Autolycus but sometimes indulged in a distracting amount of eyebrow acting.
Rowan avoided providing a clear interpretation of the play's ambiguously "magical" finale, which made things somewhat difficult for Judith Jarosz as Paulina. This clearly skilled actress handled the language beautifully but seemed to be trying to leave open the possibility that she was secretly hiding her mistress Hermione throughout the play. Because this question was left unresolved, the audience was left uncertain whether some of Jarosz's choices in early scenes were clever or stilted. Despite this and other minor flaws, the end impression was of a good-natured and playfully conceived production that was likely as much fun for the performers as for the spectators.
Also featured were: Alan Jestice, Ben Masur, Stephanie Gaslin, Kyla Marie Mostello, Lawrence Merritt, Gabriel Vaughan, Neil Shaw, Jason Wynn and Ashton Crosby.
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Copyright 2002 Frank Episale