KPBS AIRDATE: August 05, 2005
Shakespeare believed that summer was for lighter comedies and winter for darker concerns. He even says so in “The Winter’s Tale”: “A sad tale’s best for winter,” young Mamilius tells his mother, the Queen. But the Bard’s penultimate creation really defies description. The tragic first half, set in Sicilia, is dark and brooding. A wildly jealous King falsely accuses his pregnant wife of infidelity with his best friend, and in his rage, imprisons his mate, banishes his new baby daughter, and punished by the gods, watches his young son die of grief. The second, comic half of the play takes place 16 years later, on the rustic Bohemian coast. Balance is restored, sanity is regained. Happiness reigns, couples unite, and the queen even comes back from the dead — just as winter turns to spring.
At the Old Globe’s Shakespeare Festival, visionary director Darko Tresnjak has made a glorious summer gift of this “Winter’s Tale,” highlighting the humanity and solving the various problems of tone and staging with ingenuity, wit and panache. Since time is such an important aspect of the action, a white-clad woman, guarding an hourglass, sits on a throne upstage throughout. Tresnjak makes it clear that this play is all about the cycle of life — and the magic of theater. The language and plotlines are crystalline, too, both grounded and ethereal, to match the chiaroscuro of the play. There’s a defined point at which the current changes from tragedy to comedy, in that oft-quoted line, “Exit, pursued by a bear.” A slightly silly but imaginative solution to that problem – a giant two-dimensional head with an ominous, red-streamer mouth, catapults us into an act where anything can happen – and does.
The look, feel and sound of this production are consistently beautiful, thanks to the flexible scenic design of Ralph Funicello, and inspired costumer Lindo Cho, lighting virtuoso York Kennedy and creative composer Christopher Walker. The precise and meticulous direction creates so many breathtaking and heart-rending moments. And the performances are the very best of the summer’s Festival ensemble — from young Michael Drummond as the precocious, inquisitive prince, to real-life partners Bruce Turk and Katie MacNichol as the hotheaded king and his majestic queen. Charles Janasz and Kandis Chappell are marvelous as the selfless adviser Camillo and the merciless, magical Paulina. Matt Biedel is engaging as princely son to Tom Hammond’s affable Bohemian King; Eve Danzeisen plays the lost princess as a sometimes shrill and lusty country girl, and Evan Zes is amusing as the wily thief, Autolycus, though he’d be better if he weren’t asked to sing.
Tresjnak reveals so many delights in this rarely-seen play. There’s a great deal of pleasure to be had watching an up-and-coming master at work on a lesser-known masterwork.
©2005 Patté Productions Inc.