Friday, April 12, 2013

theatre review THE WINTER'S TALE, McCarter Theatre, April 7

The plays of William Shakespeare almost all fall into two categories, the comedies and the tragedies.  So it is interesting that one of his lesser produced plays The Winter's Tale is actually a hybrid of both tragedy and comedy.  The McCarter Theatre is currently presenting a slightly edited down version of the play in a beautifully staged production directed by Rebecca Taichman.

Jealously is the central plot element that kicks off the action of the play when the King of Sicila, Leontes, believes his friend King Polixenes, the King of Bohemia, is involved romantically with his pregnant wife Hermione.  After Polixenes learns of Leontes' plan to poison him, he flees back to his home country which only makes Leontes believe his fears were correct.  He imprisons his wife for infidelity and orders the new born child to be abandoned to a far away place, thinking that the child is not his.  His son, his only child, dies of an illness that is brought on by the accusations against his mother and then news comes that Hermione has died as well.  Leontes is heartbroken and vows to morn the loss of his wife and son.  Pretty dramatic stuff, right?  And that's just the first half of the play which is dark and dramatic.   However the second half has a much lighter and comical tone where the action shifts to Bohemia and we find out what happened to the abandoned child.  It also includes several musical moments.  And while it might be a bit jarring for the change of tone the fact that the intermission is placed between the shift makes it less of a jolt.
The dark, brooding world of Sicilia with Hanna Yelland,
Mark Harelik and Sean Arbuckle
 Taichman has assembled a very capable cast headlined by Mark Harelik as Leontes.  Harelik throws himself into the part of the jealous king and Taichman stages the action in such a way that we too can see why his beliefs might have merit.  But Taichman also wisely has her cast playing multiple parts, so while Harelik is dark and brooding as the King he is also comically a buffoon as the peddler Autolycus. Other standouts in the cast include Hannah Yelland as Hermione and Ted van Griethuysen as the Old Shepherd who takes in the abandoned newborn and raises it as his daughter.  The rest of the cast is effective in the multiple parts they play but it's just too bad that the extremely talented Tony winner Brent Carver is playing a supporting part with minimal stage time.

The colorful world of Bohemia
Taichman uses lighting, sets and costumes most effectively to demonstrate not only the shift in tone between the two halves of the play but also to portray the two different lands of Sicilia and Bohemia.  In Sicilia the costumes are all dark with the men all wearing modern formal wear and the set design is all sleek and shadows.  But in Bohemia there is a burst of color not only in the costumes but also in the use of large cut out prop pieces to portray colorful butterflies and woodland creatures. 

While The Winter's Tale may not be one of Shakespeare's more well known plays like Hamlet or Romeo and Juliet it is an effective piece of drama with well written characters and identifiable themes of jealousy, betrayal and revenge.  There is also a magical last scene that brings everything together and in the McCarter production Taichman stages this scene beautifully.  It also requires Yelland to display some amazing technical skills. 

The Winter's Tale runs at the McCarter through April 21st before moving to the Shakespeare Theatre Company in D.C. for a run from May 9th to June 23rd.

McCarter website
Shakespeare Theatre of D.C. website

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