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Shakespeare Theatre Company The Winter’s Tale

By • May 28th, 2013 • Category: Reviews
The Winter’s Tale
Shakespeare Theatre Company: (Info) (Web)
Lansburgh Theatre, Washington DC
Through June 23rd
2:45 with intermisison
$68-$100 (Plus Fees)
Reviewed May 22nd, 2013

This exquisitely complex production is what theatre should be: Spectacle that also tells a story and conveys a sense of wonder. At the Shakespeare Theatre Company’s Lansburgh Theatre, Director Rebecca Talchman, with her design team and a uniformly superb cast, has achieved this goal, with moments humorous, chilling and touching, that transcend everyday life.

Entering the theatre, we are presented with a simply elegant red velvet curtain. The proscenium frames the stage with a lit marquee, a cluster of small pendant lamps above, and nine black Queen Anne style chairs upholstered in black and gray striped fabric below.

The design is perfect for one of Shakespeare’s most challenging and infrequently performed stories. Talchman has intentionally double cast the play, to experiment in part with the original Shakespearean staging, and in part to explore the varying sides of the human soul. This choice creates an effective opportunity to work with the transitions between Sicilia, represented by Christine Jones’ monochromatic Greek Revival architecture and stark white walls, and the riot of color and light that illustrate Bohemia using those same white walls.

The set becomes a blank canvas on which Leontes, King of Sicilia (Mark Harelik), floods his insanely jealous and entirely misplaced rage against his wife, Hermione (Hannah Yellan), much abused target and ultimately the literal centerpiece of the play and his boyhood friend Polixenes, King of Bohemia (Sean Arbuckle). When Paulina (Nancy Robinette) tries to break his spiral of anger, Leontes’ detestable fit become homicidal and his wife and children, Mamillius and Perdita (both played by Heather Wood), pay the price.

It would be a disservice to describe the magical translation from Sicilia to Bohemia and back again. Words fail. Christopher Akerlind’s truly effective use of both lighting and projection paints the Bohemian countryside in shades of bright orange, blue and green, and those same stark chairs, upended and distributed across the stage to show their bright green undersides become tall grass in the sheep meadows, providing a backdrop for comic relief, partnered by Ted Van Griethuysen as the Old Shepherd and Tom Story as the Young Shepherd, who meet the rogue Autolycus (Mark Harelik).

Camillo (Brent Carver), forced out of the Sicilian court, becomes Polixenes’ aide. Just as Perdita falls for Polixenes’ son, Florizel (Todd Bartels), the young lovers are thrust into Sicilia to escape Polixenes’ fury. We watch the color fade again, as Mark Harelik makes his slow, deliberate transformation back to a much-changed Leontes.

From there we return to the start of the play, back to the red curtains, black chairs and pendant lamps, which open to reveal Hermione’s statue, framed in repeated lit marquees and countless pendants. It is here that we see the ultimate, simplest stage magic and the purest theatrical form — actors in costume playing their parts — on which Shakespeare’s plays were founded. Scenery essentially gone, we clear away the distractions and we get to the heart of the play’s conclusion.

In retrospect, the monochromatic themes of Sicilia leave the viewer with the sense of having visited a bizarre nightmare. The riot of Bohemia feels far more fanciful in contrast. The double casting works phenomenally well, straddling the line between structure and nature.

Music Director Stephen Feigenbaum’s ethereal music, David Zinn’s impeccable costumes tie the story together, to make for a stunningly dramatic production.

Photo Gallery

Brent Carver as Camillo and Sean Arbuckle as Polixenes Heather Wood as Perdita, Mark Harelik as Leontes, Hannah Yelland as Hermione and Todd Bartels as Florizel (background)
Brent Carver as Camillo and Sean Arbuckle as Polixenes
Heather Wood as Perdita, Mark Harelik as Leontes, Hannah Yelland as Hermione and Todd Bartels as Florizel (background)
Tom Story as Young Shepherd (Clown) and the cast Mark Harelik as Autolycus
Tom Story as Young Shepherd (Clown) and the cast
Mark Harelik as Autolycus
Todd Bartels as Florizel and Heather Wood as Perdita Tom Story as Young Shepherd (Clown) and Ted van Griethuysen as Old Shepherd
Todd Bartels as Florizel and Heather Wood as Perdita
Tom Story as Young Shepherd (Clown) and Ted van Griethuysen as Old Shepherd
Hannah Yelland as Hermione Mark Harelik as Leontes, Ted van Griethuysen as Antigonus and Nancy Robinette as Paulina
Hannah Yelland as Hermione
Mark Harelik as Leontes, Ted van Griethuysen as Antigonus and Nancy Robinette as Paulina

Photos by T. Charles Erickson

Cast

  • Polixenes: Sean Arbuckle
  • Dion/Florizel: Todd Bartels
  • Camillo: Brent Carver
  • Leontes/Autolycus: Mark Harelik
  • Paulina/Bohemian Townsperson: Nancy Robinette
  • Cleomenes/Young Shepherd (Clown): Tom Story
  • Antigonus/Old Shepherd: Ted van Griethuysen
  • Mamillius/Time/Perdita: Heather Wood
  • Hermione: Hannah Yelland

Direction And Design

  • Director: Rebecca Taichman
  • Set Designer: Christine Jones
  • Costume Designer: David Zinn
  • Lighting Designer: Christopher Akerlind
  • Composer : Nico Muhly
  • Sound Designer: Matt Tierney
  • Music Director: Stephen Feigenbaum
  • Choreographer: Camille A. Brown
  • Vocal Coach: Gillian Lane-Plescia
  • Head of Voice and Text: Ellen O’Brien
  • Casting Director: Laura Stanczyk, CSA
  • Resident Casting Director: Daniel Neville-Rehbehn
  • Production Dramaturgs: Carrie Hughes and Drew Lichtenberg
  • Assistant Director: Jenny Lord
  • Production Stage Manager : Alison Cote
  • Assistant Stage Manager: Elizabeth Clewley

Disclaimer: Shakespeare Theatre Company provided two complimentary media tickets to ShowBizRadio for this review.

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is founder and Artistic Director of OutOftheBlackBox Theatre Company (O2B2) and General Manager of the Greenbelt Arts Center. Since 2006 Betsy has worked as a director, producer, designer and more. Betsy has also worked with Washington Revels, Arena Stage, the now-defunct Harlequin Dinner Theatre and with community theatre companies both in Maryland and in upstate New York. She holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Technical Theatre from SUNY New Paltz. Through Hawkeswood Productions, Betsy produces archival performance videos and YouTube highlight spots.

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