Short Term Listings
BOOKS and CDs
LETTERS TO EDITOR
Writing for Us
A CurtainUp Review Berkshire Review
The Winter's Tale
By Elyse Sommer
If you never heard of Robert Greene's Pandosto, you're not alone. It took William Shakespeare's touch of genius to elevate this story by his contemporary into one of his final and finest plays. It's not one of his great tragedies. Nor is it really a comedy. Instead it's a little of both--a tragic misconception and stubborn insistence on revenge. Unlike the Bard's great epic tragedies, the "villain" of this piece is not beyond redemption and the story not doomed to an unhappy ending. Like all of Shakespeare's plays, The Winter's Tale's enduring popularity stems from its characters and language, and the Bard's talent for stirring up a broth of many flavors.
For those unfamiliar with the ingredients of this particular dramatic broth: The story shifts between King Leontes' court in Sicilia and a more bucolic setting in Bohemia. The complications arise from King Leontes' (John Hadden) of his queen's (Virginia Ness Ray) friendly attentions to the visiting King of Bohemia (Malcom Ingram). Despite a trial at which the Oracle from Delphi declares the queen guiltless, the King banishes her. Their young son, Mamillius (Tiger Coleman) dies of grief but the Queen's newborn baby daughter Perdita is snatched from death by a Bohemian shepherd who raises her his daughter. There's a time lapse of sixteen years between the queen's banishment and the story's long-delayed happy ending which, like Shakespeare's even more famous Othello illustrates that he is not averse to dramatic surprises.
This being part of what the company calls its Bare Bard series, the evening's satisfactions must derive from well-paced direction and strong, sensitive performances. The nine-member cast does not disappoint. Several who have been with the company for many seasons, have aged like the perennial good wine.
As for the direction, Rocco Sisto has trimmed the script to a very reasonable 2 ½ hours, just about the maximum for this theater, even with pads on the seats and fans to keep things at a fair comfort level. The merging of the 5 acts into unnumbered scenes keeps all the plots and subplots intact and the most amusing and original character, the light-fingered peddler Autolycus in place. Walton Wilson is terrific as this delightful rogue without malice, right to his singing at the beginning of the post-intermission second part (Act 4 in the unabridged play). He, and most of the other actors, adeptly handle several roles. Having John Hadden double both as the King of Sicilia and the Shepherd who raises the daughter he condemned to an unhappy fate proves an amusing bit of dual role casting.
If the plot was meant to be taken very seriously, it would, like many Shakespeare plays, stretch credulity--but as the initial scenes take historic liberties by having a photographer catch the tableau of the Royals in their still tranquil and happy times, The Winter's Tale is best enjoyed as a chance for actors to show off their ability to portray the many moods that permeate the evening. And of course to enjoy lines like:
a sad tale's best for winter--Mamillius
one good deed, dying tongueless;
Slaughters a thousand waiting upon that.
Our praises are our wages. --Queen Hermione
. . .we profess
Ourselves to be the slaves of chance and flies
Of every wind that blows--Florizel
Prosperity's the very bond of love,
Whose fresh complexion and whose heart together