"The Winter’s Tale,” The Elm Shakespeare Company, Edgerton Park, New Haven Through to Sept. 5

--Irene Backalenick

At last, the bounteous outdoor theater season (which offers mostly Shakespearean productions) draws to a close! In New Haven’s Edgerton Park, those proceedings close on a high note. The Elm Shakespeare Company’s “The Winter’s Tale,” a happy farewell to summer, is certainly worth seeing.
           
As with other Shakespearean shows in this part of the state, a wooded park provides the setting. Director James Andreassi (the company’s Artistic Director) uses that setting to the play’s advantage, as the story glides from court to countryside and back again. The romping country scenes are particularly joyous and effective.

Inevitably, one compares productions of the same play—and, this time around, Elm Shakespeare faces off with the Public Theatre’s production in New  York City’s Central Park. Though Elm Shakespeare does not have the considerable resources of its New York counterpart, Andreassi creates a charming play.

While some performances outstrip others, “The Winter’s Tale” is not meant to focus on one character---no Hamlet, no Othello. It is as an ensemble that this production shines, thanks to skillful directing and solid performances. Andreassi has recruited a cast which works well together.

Yet of particular note are the performances of Mark Zeisler, Sarah Peterson, and Aaron Moss. Zeisler, as a regal King Leontes, commands the stage, even while he, as the jealous husband, falls apart. Peterson has a unique and powerful delivery style, alternating sharp, stabbing lines with dark, significant pauses. As the accusatory voice, she is first-rate. And Moss turns the rogue Autolycus into a one-man circus.
          
That Andreassi manages to bring off a show worth seeing is no mean feat. “The Winter’s Tale” is arguably the least satisfying of Shakespeare’s works. It is an improbable tale about a King who decides his wife has cheated on him and decides to have her (and her unborn child) killed. “My wife is slippery,” he says of the Queen. (Shakespeare provides neither motivation nor strong characterization to justify this development.) As it turns out, the Queen and her daughter are saved by kind servants and lowly shepherds, and Leontes ultimately repents. The heights of this absurd plot are reached when a statue of the Queen comes to life, and all are happily reunited.

So much for the story. But go to Edgerton Park to see what the Elm Shakespeare Company makes of it. Bring a blanket or chair, picnic supper, and an open mind.

 

This review also appears in the Connecticut Post and on nytheaterscene.com.

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