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A CurtainUp Review
The Winter's Tale
By Les Gutman
It seems like just yesterday that this play was being performed at Shakespeare in the Park. Checking my notes, I see that it was, not the sixteen years between the two "halves" of The Winter's Tale, but nonetheless a full decade ago. (That review is linked below, and adds much detail on the story that's not repeated here.) Time has indeed, as Shakespeare says, used its wings.
The intervening decade has of course changed our perspective on many things, but not on the the central theme of The Winter's Tale, which is the corrosive nature of jealousy. Roughly the same span of time intervened between Shakespeare's writing of his great play about jealousy, Othello, and this more problematic one, but the unavoidable tragedy of this "wasted emotion" remains unchanged.
Michael Greif has given us a fresh and well-considered look at the play, and has framed a different perspective on the effects of jealousy. A decade ago, Brian Kulick gave us the hovering presence of Time throughout his production; Mr. Greif adds a more effective (and powerful) device, reminding us of the effect of the jealousy here: the loss of Mamillius (Alexander Maier), the son of King Leontes (Ruben Santiago-Hudson). Greif has the dead Mamillius return with (also dead) Antigonus (in a wonderful portrayal by Gerry Bamman) who becomes the chorus at the top of Act IV; both silently return again at the play's end. It has always troubled me that, in all of the celebration at the "decalcification" of Hermione (Linda Emond), the death of the son goes unacknowledged; Greif attends to this, to shattering effect.
The early scenes in Bohemia are weighed down by a particularly unimpressive showing by Mr. Santiago-Hudson. A fine actor, he appears here to be in over his head, giving a basically meaningless performance that is especially noticeable in contrast to the astute portrayal of Polixenes by Jesse L. Martin (who was equally winning in his portrayal of Gratiano in the parallel production of The Merchant of Venice). Because one never accepted Leontes's emotions here (or, for that matter, in the later scenes), much of the psychological force of the play was lost. Linda Emond fared much better as the queen and mother, Hermione, as did Byron Jennings in a heartbreaking performance as the compassionate Lord, Camillo.
The acting kudos here, however, go elsewhere, to the remarkable Marianne Jean Baptiste as the combustible Paulina, and to Hamish Linklater, who managed to make Autolycus, a role prone to broad comic excess, into a character both enormously funny and yet believable. Also especially noteworthy in this large cast were Max Wright as the shepherd, and Heather Lind, who made a lovely Perdita.
The production elements in this staging were exceptional, and put to very fine use by Michael Greif. Mark Wendland employed an enormous arched "window-wall" upstage, that was raised and lowered to alter the shape of each scene. He also made extensive use of trap doors, that abetted both the staging and the show's humor. Clint Ramos's costumes were true to the locales, and also quite inventive. Kenneth Posner's lighting was very important in creating the varying moods of the play, and combined most emphatically with Acme Sound Partner's sound design to create a number of very special moments in the show. A quartet of live musicians playing Tom Kitt's evocative score also added to the quality of the production, as did the puppetry work of Lake Simons. The director's memorable efforts in the "Oracle" scene, the opening scene in Sicilia as well as the final ones, would not have been possible without the collaborative effort of these designers and musicians.
Having arrived thinking I had seen quite enough versions of The Winter's Tale, I am pleased to report that I changed my mind. A few disappointing acting lapses notwithstanding, the production indeed demonstrated that it had something else to say, and it did so in a quite beautiful and entertaining way.
Review of the last Central Park stof The Winter's Tale