“The Winter’s Tale” at Yale Repertory Theatre, University Theatre
It is clear that Yale Rep’s current Shakespearean play requires a big, big stage. Hence “The Winter’s Tale” has taken over the cavernous University Theatre.
Director Liz Diamond takes a fresh approach to the classic drama, one which calls for distance, height and a sense of the ethereal. The set (which Diamond has Michael Yeargan create) is marked by an austere stage with three-story high arches. Characters appear at times in silhouette, as they enter through lofty arches. The entire effect is other-worldly, suggesting a fairy tale -- or, more accurately, a Greek myth. Characters are not expected to behave realistically, but rather as the gods ordain.
A wise choice indeed, since “The Winter’s Tale,” if viewed realistically, is absurd. The story, to be brief, is that of King Leontes of Sicilia, who suddenly decides that his wife Hermione has been unfaithful -- her lover being his boyhood friend Polixenes, King of Bohemia. This is totally baseless. Nevertheless, he imprisons his wife and orders his newly-born daughter (whom he views as a bastard) to be abandoned in the wilderness. The infant (no surprise) is transported to Bohemia, where she is found and reared by a kindly shepherd.
Fast forward sixteen years, and the foundling has become the lovely Perdita, who, though merely a country maid, is loved by Florizel, son of Polixenes. Along the way, Perdita’s fortunes will wax and wane. But, since “The Winter’s Tale” is a comedy, not a tragedy, all will end well. Forgiveness, reconciliation, and happy endings will prevail.
As to this production of “The Winter’s Tale,” the first act is highly effective -- given its impressive stage set and the strong, convincing performance of Rob Campbell, who plays Leontes. For Campbell, every line and move are rich with emotion. Surrounding performers are caught up in the Campbell ardor, and, in particular, the scenes between Leontes and Paulina (played by Felicity Jones) are indeed powerful. Jones matches Campbell line for line, passion for passion. These human exchanges are played out, in effective contrast, against the overwhelming, impersonal backdrop. It’s as if the Greek gods had brought it all about, based on their particular whims.
But the second act proves to be a let-down. For starters, the floral setting, though charming and spring-like, lacks the powerful effect of the previous set. And the young lovers, Florizel and Perdita (played by Tim Brown and Lupita Nyong’O) share little chemistry. And of the various characters who parade across the stage, only the old shepherd (Thomas Kopache) and his son (Richard Ruiz) are highly diverting.
In all, “The Winter’s Tale” gets a mixed review, not only for the play itself, but for this particular production. Not the best of Shakespeare’s dramas in any circumstances, it is only partially redeemed this time around.
This review also appears on: nytheaterscene.com