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A CurtainUp Connecticut Review
The Winter’s Tale”
By Chesley Plemmons
This is not to say there aren’t multiple pleasures in director Liz Diamonds staging, but the wild and very wooly second act seems to be saying that it alone is the play and what has gone before, merely prologue. The first act is set in a formal and serious Sicilia. Michael Yeargan’s soaring sets are regal and imposing and Jennifer Moeller’s darkly handsome costumes suggest elegance, fortune and a hint of tragedy.
Leontes (Rob Campbell), the King of Sicilia, goes off the deep end emotionally while playing host to his best friend, Polixenes, King of Bohemia (Hoon Lee). Suffering from a malaise that causes him to see the world and the people in it as slaves to misconduct and lechery, Leontes leaps to the irrational and untrue assumption that his pregnant wife Hermione (Susannah Schulman) is having an affair with Polixenes.
Even after the Delphic Oracle proclaims her innocence, Leontes rants on until the gods take the life of his young son and then, we are told, Hermione. The queen’s lady, Paulina — a very fine Felicity Jones— rescues Hermione’s newborn baby girl, Perdita, and persuades her husband Antigonus (Brian Keane) to spirit her away.
A broken man, Leontes vows to visit the single grave of his wife and son every day in penance for his crimes. This ends the first half of the play. To this point, everything, to this traditionalist critic’s eyes and ears, was seamless and powerful. Schulman was quite moving delivering Hermoine’s impassioned defense, as was Jones in Paulina’s fiery exchange with Leones in defense of her mistress.
As the jealousy driven Leontes, Campbell fashioned his character with a tic here and a tic there that betrayed the unstableness of his mind. Tyrone Mitchell Henderson’s Camillo was a neat portrait of a friend beset by doubt, and young Remsen Welsh was an appealing Mamillus, the king’s son.
Most often productions of The Winter’s Tale now take a break and rejoin the story after the intermission (and the passage of 16 years) in the happier environs of Bohemia. The director here has opted to play a few of the first Bohemia scenes before the break thus depriving the play of its logical schism.
Hermoine’s babe, a girl, Perdita (Lupita Nyong’o) having been rescued by Paulina’s husband, Antigonus (Brian Keane) and left to survive on her own on the shore of Bohemia is found and raised by a shepherd (Thomas Kopache). Now grown into a pretty young thing she has fallen in love with Florizel (Tim Brown) the estranged son of — who else? — Polixenes.
There’s not much reason but plenty of rime and rhythm in the second act led by the antics of Autolycus (Luke Robertson), a thorough rogue abetted by a chorus line of shepherds, shepherdesses, clowns and assorted country folk who break into a county hoedown, albeit antiquated style, at the drop of a fake beard or outlandish prop.
Scenic designer Yeargan switches his classic mode for something that looks like the Arabian Nights, and costumer Moeller has followed suit with dazzling color combinations that more often shock the eye than sooth it.
Did I mention there’s a musical quartet on stage throughout? They’re quite helpful in setting the mood playing some soulful music by Matthew Suttor in the first half and some bacchanalian tunes for the excessively vibrant second half.
Randy Duncan has choreographed frenzied routines that almost outdo Hair, and the stage is often awhirl with gypsy colored skirts and blouses. The stage directions call at one point for “a dance of twelve Satyrs” so I guess that’s justification for most anything.
As for stage directions, the play’s most famous (for Antigonus) “Exit, pursued by a bear” is handled with witty bravado. Comic bits and funny performances abound even though Autolycus does get a bit much as do the exhausting dances.
That everything is finally resolved — the dead reborn, the king and queen reunited, and the young lovers forgiven and officially joined may — require a leap of faith. But who else would ask us to do such a thing except Sir William?
The Winter’s Tale is my favorite Shakespearean play and perhaps I exercise too much ownership by way of caveats. In bits and pieces Yale Repertory has illuminated its magic even if the cumulative effect is weakened by placing too much emphasis on its sunny moments.