The Winterís Tale by William Shakespeare. Directed by Kevin G. Coleman.
Reviewed by J. Peter Bergman
"It is an heretic that makes the fire."
Two kings, a pregnant queen, an ambitious rogue, young lovers, courtiers, shepherds and a band of rustics are the chief players in William Shakespeareís romantic play, "The Winterís Tale." It has a story told, simply, as this: a jealous king abandons his daughter, unsure of his paternity, tries his queen as an unfaithful woman (shades of Henry VIII in the 'fiction is no stranger than truth' school of writing), and loses his best friend for more than sixteen years. Later his friendís son marries his unclaimed daughter and his queen, believed dead, returns to claim her throne and his heart. The End.
Of course, this is by Shakespeare so there are lots of other characters floating about to complicate the tale. Long considered a problem play, this melodrama begins as any Othello or Henry play might, with drama and camaraderie hand in hand. Then the mood darkens and the heavy drama begins, ending in this play with a trial scene that with Jonathan Epstein and Elizabeth Aspenlieder playing Leontes and Hermione is guaranteed to tear your heart out.
Later in the lengthy first act (this play is now divided in two parts) comedy intrudes upon the formerly dark and brooding play. Shakespeare often introduced comic character to liven up, and relieve tension momentarily in a dark subject. Here, however, that final scene serves as a mood changer that affects the entire second half of the play which becomes a deliberate comedy once Time, played beautifully by Scott Renzoni, sets the stage for the long gap in the play of sixteen years (this is the official opening of Act Four, by the way).
On come the country bumpkins of Bohemia in some of Kevin G. Colemanís most deliciously designed scenes. Women fight over a man, musicians offer their instruments to audience members, disguised royalty invade a sheep-shearing party, a kingís son and a shepherdís adopted daughter dance and continue the process of falling in love. Prince Florizel is a wonderful Ryan Winkles and his love interest, Perdita, is played resourcefully by Kelly Galvin. Her father is the marvelous Malcolm Ingram and her silly brother is played by pratfall expert Wolfe Coleman.
Dana Harrison is delightful as the battle-worthy Mopsa who loves Colemanís character but who has to fight for him with Leia Espericuetaís Dorcas. Their battles, staged by fight choreographer Ryan Winkles, are among the comic highlights of this production.
Johnny Lee Davenport plays the Bohemian king Polixenes extremely well, although once disguised as a simple traveler he becomes a trifle too "Green Pastures" to easily continue passing as Winkleís dad. His friend and companion Camillo is well played by Josh Aaron McCabe.
Corinna May is a precious Paulina whose advice is never heeded but who manages to orchestrate a startling revelation and resurrection in the final scene. Jason Asprey is funny as a most convivial thief and rogue.
Kevin Coleman has delivered a very neat package with this play. Half dark, brooding drama and half light comedy he has managed to bring both ends into sharp focus, principally abetted by his fine cast, significantly Aspenlieder, Winkles, May, Epstein, Davenport, Renzoni and Harrison. There is the very moving trial scene for Aspenlieder, the monologue for Epstein, the upbraiding by May. More and more moments occur as the tempo increases in Act Two.
Colemanís particular genius seems to be pushing the pace of the play and along the way one or two small things like character development go out the window but that comedy, slapstick and otherwise, easily takes the place of "getting to know you" and any way by the time you want to know these folks, you find you already do.
From problem play to playful, The Winterís Tale is a treasure to have with us for the summer. For one more go-round Shakespeare and Company is delivering on its promises. Keep it spinning, folks.
Elizabeth Aspenlieder; photo: Kevin Sprague
Corinna May and Jonathan Epstein; photo: Kevin Sprague
Kelly Galvin and Ryan Winkles; photo: Kevin Sprague
The Winterís Tale plays in repertory through September 5 at the Founderís Theatre at Shakespeare and Company, located at 70 Kemble Street in Lenox, MA. For information and tickets call the box office at 413-637-3353 or go to their website at www.shakespeare.org.