Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Quick Hit Theater Review: The Winter's Tale -- Yale

Members of the company of The Winter's Tale.
© Joan Marcus, 2012
The Winter's Tale
By William Shakespeare
Directed by Liz Diamond
Summary:
Mistakingly convinced that his wife, Hermione (Susannah Schulman) has been unfaithful with Polixenes, King of Bohemia (Hoon Lee), King Leontes of Sicilia (Rob Campbell) imprisons the pregnant queen and orders her lover's death. Polixenes flees back to Bohemia with the help of Camillo (Tyron Mitchell Henderson) and when her older son, Mamillius (Remsen Welsh), dies, Hermione dies of grief. Her friend, Paulina (an excellent Felicity Jones) takes the newborn babe to the king, hoping he will be moved by the sight of his daughter, but instead, he orders Paulina's husband, Antigonus (Brian Keane), to put her the child to death. He can't do it and leaves the babe in Bohemia, where she is raised as the daughter of a shepherd. Years later, the princess Perdita (Lupita Nyong'o) falls in love with Polixenes' son Florizel (Tim Brown) and the past catches up with present.

Highlights:
Diamond's production is as entertainingly and sharply directed a Winter's Tale as I have ever seen. The "exit, chased by a bear" scene is amazingly executed thanks in large part to lighting designer Matt Frey, who deserves kudos for a breath taking statue-comes-to-life scene as well.

Three musicians sit on stage (with simple, but breathtaking sets designed by Michael Yeargan) and add to the atmosphere by playing music composed by Matthew Suttor. Choreography is by Randy Duncan.

The performances all are strong and Campbell and Lee are particularly compelling. Very enjoyable production.

Lowlights:
OK, this might be controversial, but this is one show that poses some difficulties for diversity in casting. Leontes is concerned that his children aren't his -- one look at his son, who is obviously of a different race from him and his wife, gives a quick (and wrong) answer. If a glance at the new-born babe couldn't quickly tell him whether she is his daughter for the same reasons, certainly the older Perdita couldn't be his (but is). I am all for cross-cultural casting and think it can be done much more than it is, but when the plot and dialogue so distinctly bring attention to it, it interferes with the storytelling. Imagine, for example, Othello played by a white actor. Doable, of course, but perhaps not the best casting choice in presenting that play.



Dance numbers go a bit too far in Bohemia. One really is enough.


Information:
The Winter's Tale runs through April 7 at the University Theatre, 222 York St., New Haven. Tickets range from $20-$88, are available online at www.yalerep.org or by calling 203-432-1234. For a  behind-the-scenes look at the show with director Liz Diamond and dramaturg Catherine Sheehy; and a production trailer visit http://www.yalerep.org/on_stage/2011-12/winters_tale.html.

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