AISLE SAY San Francisco


by William Shakespeare
Presented by California Shakespeare Theater
Directed by Patricia McGregor
Bruns Memorial Amphitheater
100 California Shakespeare Theater Way, Orinda, CA / (510) 548-9666

Reviewed by Judy Richter

William Shakespeare's "The Winter's Tale" is a story of miraculous reunion and redemption after a long period of atonement.

People who aren't familiar with the play would scarcely discern that theme in California Shakespeare Theater's production, called "A Winter's Tale." Director Patricia McGregor conceives the play as presented by a traveling troupe with a small group of players. Therefore, everyone plays multiple roles. That's not unusual in contemporary Shakespearean productions, but it presents a serious problem in this instance.

L. Peter Callender is first seen as Leontes, king of Sicily. He later is seen as a Bohemian shepherd who, in the play's climax, travels to Sicily to reveal crucial information. However, since he can't be two characters at once, this production cuts this scene, instead glossing over it with a hasty, almost incomprehensible narrative. Hence, the power and emotion of the final scenes are greatly diluted.

In another misstep, an audience member is asked to play Time, the character that opens the second act and explains what has happened during the 16 years between the opening scenes in Sicily and the following scenes in Bohemia. This narrative would be better delivered by an actor.

The director also has Autolycus, the roguish cutpurse played by Christopher Michael Rivera, grabbing too often at his crotch a la Michael Jackson.

The story focuses on Leontes and his pregnant wife, Hermione (Omozé Idehenre), who have been playing host to the king's longtime friend, Polixenes (Aldo Billingslea), king of Bohemia. Eager to return home, Polixenes spurns Leontes' invitation to stay longer, but acquiesces when Hermione asks him. Their conversation ignites an insane jealousy in Leontes, who accuses his wife of adultery, has her arrested and rejects their young son. After she gives birth to a daughter, he orders a courtier to abandon the baby in some forlorn place. When he is told that both his wife and son have died, he suddenly relents and begins a long period of regret and mourning.

In the meantime, the shepherd finds the baby and raises her as his daughter, Perdita (Tristan Cunningham). When she turns 16, she's being wooed by Florizel (Tyee Tilghman), son of Polixenes. When Polixenes learns of their courtship, he cruelly orders his son to give her up or face being disowned. As was the case with Leontes 16 years earlier, Polixenes' reaction is too extreme.

However, thanks to the shepherd, who knows that Perdita is a princess, she has a joyful meeting with her father, and Florizel is reconciled with his father.

Then the real miracle occurs. Paulina (Margo Hall), a lady in waiting, brings out a lifelike statue of Hermione, who comes to life before everyone. This production omits some lines that reveal what happened to her during the 16 years.

Although most of the principals do well, Callender is outstanding as his Leontes descends into irrational jealousy. On the other hand, Idehenre sometimes speaks so fast that her Hermione is difficult to understand. Similar problems occur sporadically with other characters.

The mostly modern costumes are by Katherine Nowacki, the set by Michael Locher, music by E.E. Bradman and sound by Will McCandless. The director's sister, Paloma McGregor, serves as movement director. The effective lighting is by Russell Champa

Cal Shakes has been trying to reach out to more diverse audiences, as evidenced by this production, but in this case with this director, the Bard is not well served.

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