Of scepters and sheep-hooks - 'Winter's Tale'

Posted: Thursday, November 15, 2001

"Winter's Tale" is a study in starkly contrasting polarities, of nobles and shepherds, comedy and tragedy, good and evil. This motif is supported with every tangible prop, costume, device and design element in a production that creates a cohesive and encompassing vision.

The theater space is transformed completely. Every seat is a balcony seat, affording an Apollo-eye view. This creates the psychological distance necessary to grasp the structure of the play as a whole.

Laurent P. Berger has done a fantastic job as set designer and co-designer of costumes. The backdrop is a simple white arch, but it has multiple configurations that symbolize the various settings.

The costumes, designed by Echo Danon, are equally stunning, and echo the dichotomies of the play. Sicily is the red king, Bohemia is black. (In a subtle costuming touch, Polixenes' necktie picks up a shade of red in the second half, as if he's been infected by Leontes.)

Art Rotch's lighting is highly dramatic throughout, and appropriately stark, when the king is raving mad.

J. M. Foldy turns in a rock-solid performance as Camillio, and I think Sara Waisanen as Paulina over-shot half a line early in the play, but the rest of her interpretation of a complex role was exactly right. Upon these solid pillars, a towering edifice is erected.

The three stooges - Darius Jones (Autolycus), Roblin G. Davis (Old Shepherd), and Owen Stokes (Clown) - provide much-needed comic relief in the second half of the play.

But the brightest star in this dazzling firmament is Patrick Moore as Leontes.

In this month's issue of American Scientist, James Toole, president of the World Congress of Neurology, writes about "mad leaders disease," which is the essence of what Moore captures in his portrayal.

Polixenes says, "This jealousy is for a precious creature: as she's rare, must it be great; and, as his Person's mighty, must it be violent." One of the key questions "Winter's Tale" grapples with is, "What is there to check the violent delusions of a king?"

There are those who'd claim Shakespeare's script hovers just this side of incomprehensibility, but it's possible to follow the arc of the emotions, if not the letter of the words in this play. He's woven a poetic tale of jealousy, betrayal, slander, treachery, treason, blind rage, blind love, and redemption into a palpable hit. You know, the usual.

Ultimately, "Winter's Tale" is a play about hope and magic, and the world seems to be running a bit short of both of those commodities these days.

Peter DuBois' direction of one of Shakespeare's most difficult plays is inspired, and inspiring. Make certain you don't turn it into a love's labor lost by missing the most fantastical production of Shakespeare I've seen in 23 years.

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