Sunday, May 12, 2013

The Darks and Lights of Winter

The Winter's Tale at Shakespeare Theatre Company is a rocky rollercoaster ride of emotions, beginning with the king's irrational jealousy.

In my opinion, the production relied a little too heavily on the lighting to show Leontes's (Mark Harelik) inner turmoil--the actor could convey it just fine. But unlike Othello, Leontes has no one feeding him bad information about his divinely warm (and very pregnant) wife, Hermione (Hannah Yelland). So Harelik's fiercely uncompromising passion in throwing away this wife (along with her son and the daughter to come) made the character almost wholly unlikable.

Hannah Yelland as Hermione, Mark Harelik as Leontes and Sean Arbuckle as Polixenes in the Shakespeare Theatre Company’s production of 'The Winter’s Tale', directed by Rebecca Taichman. Photo by T. Charles Erickson.

The darkness of Act I is a stark contrast to the lightness of pastoral Act II--and in this production, the transition between those contrasts is eased at the end of the first act with the abrupt and very funny image of the gloriously goofy Clown (Tom Story) crossing upstage, running and screaming like a frightened child.

If you've been here before, you already know about my obsession fascination with Tom Story
Tom Story via About the Artists
I realize I haven't seen all he's done, but I love his ability to mold that serene moon face into a range of expressions. From the first act seriousness of a palace aid (Cleomenes) without much to do except look serious, he transmogrified into the happily clueless son-of-a-shepherd, oblivious to the pickpocketing rogue Autolycus (the other half of Harelik dual-role assignment).

Actually, a very funny bit between them ensued during the IDR (invited dress rehearsal) when the zipper on Tom's turned-around fanny-pack wouldn't close after Autolycus stole the money in it. As Autolycus pulled and pulled on the stubborn zipper, the young shepherd's obliviousness grew increasingly implausible, and the smile just kept blossoming on his giddy face. At last, Tom moved the plot along with a sweet "You must abandon it, sir." Snort! I hate to say it was my favorite part of the play, but the moment called to mind the best crackups with Harvey Korman and Tim Conway from the Carol Burnett Show. (And it happened again when Tom as clown was imitating the rogue's wildly ridiculous lisp.)

This levity, this lightness, was all in keeping with the pastoral Act II. Sets, costumes, lighting all conveyed such contrasting warmth against Act I's frosty shadowy harshness. But the seamlessness of the transitions were as magical as the Queen's rebirth at the end, from discarded wife to treasured love.

Overall the production is as good as it gets at Shakespeare Theatre Company, which is pretty damn good. It did run long, but I imagine an earlier start time than the IDR had will keep people from dropping dead at 11. (Us old people, that is.) 

I thought it was interesting that the staging of this production, with actors not in the scene simply sitting to the side but not going off stage, was so similar to the Wandering Souls' engaging (and economical) 2009 production of The Winter's Tale. The Wanderers' 90-minute production remains one of my favorite Shakespearean experiences ever.

The only thing I would have liked would have been a longer why-I'm-forgiving-you speech from the queen Hermione, but Shakespeare apparently didn't provide one. 

Heather Wood as Perdita, Mark Harelik as Leontes, Hannah Yelland as Hermione and Todd Bartels as Florizel (background) in the Shakespeare Theatre Company’s production of 'The Winter’s Tale', directed by Rebecca Taichman. Photo by T. Charles Erickson.

Just another one of those irrational emotions the Bard gives his characters and expects the audience to accept. But as I said, Harelik's Leontes was so thoroughly irrationally enraged with jealousy that I personally couldn't have loved him after such abuse. Just me?

The Winter's Tale, Lansburgh Theatre, opens May 14, 2013
Director: Rebecca Taichman
Set Designer: Christine Jones
Costume Designer: David Zinn
Lighting Designer: Christopher Akerlind

Mark Harelik (Leontes, King of Sicilia; Autolycus, a rogue)
Hannah Yelland (Hermione, Queen of Sicilia)
Sean Arbuckle (Polixenes, King of Bohemia)
Heather Wood (Mamillius, Prince of Sicilia; Perdita, Princess of Sicilia)
Brent Carver (Camillo)
Ted van Griethuysen (Antigonus; old shepherd)
Nancy Robinette (Paulina; drunken shepherdess)
Tom Story (Cleomenes; young shepherd, a clown)
Todd Bartels (Dion; Florizel, Prince of Bohemia)

No comments: