Reviewed by Will Stackman
This late Shakespearean romance has had several productions in this area in recent seasons, including a visually unique and rather plodding version at the ART. "A Winter's Tale" presents an interesting interpretive problem. The first three acts are almost pure domestic tragedy on the royal level, with only a hint of lightning towards the end of Act III. The major force in the play, Lente, the irrationally jealous King of Sicilian, done with here with energy by Richard Pittsfield head of Rhode Island's Mixed Magic Theatre, dominates the first half of the play. The tragic heroine, Hermine his queen, played by B.U.'s Paula Lang ton, disappears from the action midway through. Politeness King of Bohemia, Lente' boyhood friend and the object of his sudden wrath, done for the Actors' Shakespeare Project by guest artist, peripatetic Joel Colder escapes from Sicilian with the help of Lente' advisor Camilla, played by Haitian born, Douglas Theodore. The latter becomes his advisor only to see Politeness turn tyrannical towards his own son, whom he then assists in escaping his father's anger. Regal tyranny is underlying motif.
The first hint that this play is actually a tragicomedy occurs at the end of the third act when Antigen, done wryly by versatile local stage veteran, Richard Sneer, at Lente' command abandons Hermione's infant daughter on the shores of Bohemia, with appropriate tokens, then flees the stage pursued by a bear. Director Curt L. Tofteland, head of the Kentucky Shakespeare Festival, creates this monster through a group mime which swarms over its prey. The ensemble then dissolves into a herd of sheep, after which Sneer reappears as the Shepherd who finds the baby. He's joined by his clownish son, played by Boscon faculty member Doug Lockwood who recounts seeing said bear devour Antogonus. The mood of doom which has built up so far begins to dissipate with this fantastic situation.
When the action resumes in Act IV sixteen years later--this production omits Time's long intermediate prologue--Camilla is requesting a leave of absence to return to Sicilian, but Politeness requests rather that his old friend accompany him--disguised--to discover what his son has been up to. Next comes one of the Bard's most unusual comic roles, the rogue Autolycus, done by mercurial John Kuhn, who appeared in ASP's inaugural production as Richard III. He appears noodling on his saxophone, ready for the main chance, which arrives soon enough when the Shepherd's son comes in on the way to market. Spotting his mark, Kuhn pretends to be an Irish clergyman who's been robbed on the highway, and soon fleeces the poor fool. It's now time to meet the young lovers, Prince Florizel, played by stalwart James Ryen and Perdita, played by petite Cristi Miles. During the subsequent sheepshearing festival, before their engagement can be made, Politeness, who's there in disguise, intervenes. The plot thickens as Camilla helps the young lovers escape with him to Sicilian, followed by Politeness, who's been shown the tokens left with Perdita by the Shepherd and his son at Autolycus' behest, expecting a reward.
Meanwhile, back in Sicilian, Lente has mourned Hermine all these years, plus the death of their son, Mamillius, done by young Oliver Stickney in Act I. The King's reminded of his culpability by Bobbie Stein bach playing Antigen' wife, Paulina, who was Hermione's gentlewoman earlier in the play and the two courtiers who originally brought proof of the Queen's innocence from Delphi. When Florizel and Perdita arrive, he embraces the son of his old friend and his Princess, not know the latter is his daughter. Trouble soon looms with Politeness' arrival, but Peridita's true identity is quickly known, thanks to the Shepherd's tokens, all by report in a scene which ends with Autolycus' humbling--for the moment--by the assumed dignity of the Shepherd and his son. The final ensemble scene is the magical transformation of a supposed statue of Hermine, kept hidden at Paulina's house, into a reborn Hermine, after which the King marries the widow to Camilla to complete the play. While this whole fantasy is loosely based on Green's tale of "Pandosto", Shakespeare's answer to his old critic, well after the latter's death, is complex meditation on power and jealousy.
All this action takes place on a simple in-the-round stage laid on the floor of the old Hall of Records in the historic Bullfinch Courthouse. The only decoration is an abstract tree form painted on the floor, echoed on three banners hanging from the balconies. Designer Caleb Wertenbaker uses his lighting to control the mood of the show, from its wintry beginning to a summery end. Charles Schoonmaker's costume plot suggests both modern dress and the timeless nature of the play. Composer Peter Bayne performs his score live at a visible keyboard. Once again, by concentrating on the text and utilizing an experienced company, the Actors' Shakespeare Project has produced a satisfying rendition of one of the Bard's problem plays.