title>The Winter's Tale, a CurtainUp review
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A CurtainUp Review
The Winter's Tale
By Les Gutman
There are two points at which Barry Edelstein's new production of The Winter's Tale resonates emotionally. Interestingly enough, neither is scripted. The first is in the delivery of the message (via a tape recorder) from the Oracle, quoted above, which -- hopefully without giving too much of it away here -- tells the assembled Sicilians "the way it is". The latter is a coda to the play's final scene, which I will also decline to reveal in detail, which provides a forceful wallop. What's implicit in the above, and unfortunate, is that little if any of the play itself is given a treatment that registers with much strength.
It's not that Mr. Edelstein (for whom this production is his swan song as CSC's Artistic Director), doesn't have a useful vision, or that his staging is lacking in invention. What's missing is the sort of focus on Shakespeare's language that the play demands. This is beginning to sound like a broken record, but once again we have a director who spends a great deal of time developing a fine concept, without giving the delivery of the text more than scant attention. We are left with actors who must fend for themselves in scanning the lines, and even in understanding what they are saying. There is a very simple proposition that seems to elude directors of Shakespeare in this city: if the actors are not intimately familiar with the meaning of their lines, or the way they must be recited, there is little chance the audience will appreciate the play.
As is usually the case when this happens, what appears on stage is a mishmash of styles and tones, in which some actors run over the metrics to the point of incomprehensibility while others (because of a combination of training and homework) do not. The result is invariably disappointing if not depressing. Here, the critical renderings of Leontes (David Strathairn) and Hermione (Barbara Garrick) are deplorable, as is that of Polixenes (Michel Gill). The problem is not that the decision to set the play in a contemporary (non-Elizabethan) mode makes it impossible to speak sensibly: it has been done, and I've seen it done very well. The difficulty is that Mr. Edelstein has put the cart before the horse, excitedly offering up fresh ideas without bothering to build a framework on which they can be effectively executed.
Some of the actors rise above the failure, and should be noted. At the head of this line are Tom Bloom (both as Antigonus before the intermission and as the old shepherd thereafter) and Mary Lou Rosato, whose Paulina is terrific. Also worthy of praise are David Costabile's Clown, Teagle Bougere's delightful take on the always-entertaining Autolycus and Gene Farber's affecting Florizel.
Mr. Strathairn, who headlines this production, is a fine actor but he's never at home in this production. If his performance were credible, there would be much to discuss regarding his particularly non-regal take on Leontes. There's also much that might be said about the show's symbolistic approach to time (one of the play's major themes), Narelle Sisson's sparse but effective set, Mattie Ullrich's reserved but elegant costumes for Sicilia and her enjoyable ones for Bohemia (in which there is always a good deal of exchanging of clothes, outdone here by Autolycus's especially funny one) or the hysterical disguises in which Polixenes and Camillo appear. But this endeavor doesn't deserve the effort.
LINKS TO PREVIOUS REVIEWS OF THE WINTER'S TALE
Shakespeare and Company production
NYSF production in Central Park
At This Theater
Leonard Maltin's 2003 Movie and Video Guide
Ridiculous!The Theatrical Life & Times of Charles Ludlam
Somewhere For Me, a Biography of Richard Rodgers
The New York Times Book of Broadway: On the Aisle for the Unforgettable Plays of the Last Century
6, 500 Comparative Phrases including 800 Shakespearean Metaphors by CurtainUp's editor.
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