Yale Rep has done itself proud with a lucid and well-performed production of Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale under the sure-handed direction of Liz Diamond.
Diamond moves the large cast comfortably through this twisted story that encompasses two kingdoms and 16 years. You never are at a loss as to where and when the action is. Furthermore, the performers (with few exceptions) handle the Shakespearean lines with ease and clarity.
Diamond has also provided excellent musicians—Paul Brantley, Michael Compitello, Adam Rosenblatt, and Jason May—with original music by Matthew Suttor, which that accompanies and accents the action.
The play has its roots in the jealousy theme of Shakespeare’s earlier tragedy, Othello. But, The Winter’s Tale is a late-Shakespearean play from his romance period. As a result, it reflects his later attitude toward life and places in the forefront the issues of forgiveness and reconciliation.
Created by Michael Yeargan, a splendid set with giant moving walls that provide space for a palace as well as a sheep-shearing festival. On this set, this story reveals the dangers of jealousy, especially among persons in authority, and the need for time and atonement to heal wounds.
The Winter’s Tale tells of the jealousy of King Leontes of Sicilia, fully realized by Rob Campbell, who believes that his wife Hermione, played the attractive Susannah Schulman, is having an affair with his best friend, Polixenes, the King of Bohemia, played resolutely by Hoon Lee. Leontes drives Polixenes from his court and imprisons his wife, who dies in giving birth to a daughter; Polixenes exiles his newborn daughter. In the process, his son also dies. The deaths in this play are unusual for Shakespeare. Usually, deaths are reserved for tragedies and histories. But this is a romance and there has to be a price for atonement.
The first act ends with Antigonus, (Brian Keane) a member of Polixenes’s court, abandoning the babe on the shores of Bohemia—Shakespeare had no sense of geography, since what we know as Bohemia is landlocked—with a casket filled with gold. The scene comes to a conclusion with the discovery of the baby by two shepherds—part of the comic relief. Just before their arrival, however, one of the most famous stage directions puts finis to Antigonus,: “Exit pursued by a bear.” In this case the giant bear is played by Chris Van Zele. Stage directions are rare in Shakespeare and this line is in the first folio, so it seems authentic.
When the curtain comes up for act two, it is 16 years later, the baby has grown into a lovely woman, Perdita, played by the shy Lupita Nyong’o, and is loved by and in love with King Polixenes’s son, Florizel (Tim Brown). Rest assured that Polixenes is not happy with the prince’s loving a peasant and attempts to break up the romance. The couple flees to —you guessed it—Sicilia, closely pursued by Polixenes.
This brings us back to Sicilia, where Leontes has had a complete turnaround and is being punished for his misdeeds by Paulina (Felicite Jones), a lady of the court, who never lets him forget the evils that he has done.
Of course, Leontes repents his misguided attitude toward his friend Polixenes and when he arrives, welcomes him.
Well, you can guess the rest. It’s discovered that Perdita is the abandoned baby and to cap it all off, Paulina produces a statute of Hermione that turns into the living Hermione, having been concealed for 16 years. The play ends—in typical Shakespearean romance tradition—with differences reconciled.
Also included in this play is one of the great scamps of theatrical history, the thieving Autolycus, played here by the talented Luke Robertson.
What’s wonderful about Diamond’s production is that your are able to follow the story and appreciate the language.
With costumes by Jennifer Moeller that are generally appropriate—though one has to be shocked by the 1920s look that appears with Perdita and Florizel when they arrive at Leontes’s court—the tale moves swiftly and clearly along.
The Winter’s Tale is at the University Theatre, 222 York Street, New Haven, through Saturday, April 7. For tickets and information, call the box office at 203-432-1234 or visit www.yalerep.org.