THE WINTER'S TALE AT YALE REP
By Diane Insolio
The timing of the Yale Repertory Theatre’s production of Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale is fitting. The play comes in like a lion, all tragedy and doom, and goes out like a comedic, frolicking lamb. Directed by Obie Award winner Liz Diamond the production is top flight, with scenic design (Michael Yeargan), music (Matthew Suttor), costumes (Jennifer Moeller), choreography (Randy Duncan) and lighting (Matt Frey) coalescing into an evening of entertainment that the Bard himself would be proud of.
Leontes, King of Sicilia, (nicely acted by Rob Campbell), in the throes of a senseless jealousy, imprisons his pregnant wife, Queen Hermione (Susannah Schulman, delivering her lines as if she were born speaking Early Modern English) whom he wrongly believes to be having an affair with his visitor and lifelong friend, Polixenes, King of Bohemia (Hoon Lee). Leontes orders his close advisor, Lord Camillo (Tyrone Mitchell Henderson, seen last season as Avery in The Piano Lesson), to kill Polixenes, but Camillo, certain that Leontes’ jealousy has blinded him to the truth, wisks Polixenes back to Bohemia. The imprisoned Queen Hermione gives birth to a baby girl, whom Leontes quickly banishes despite the desperate efforts of the Queen’s best friend, Paulina (artfully played by Felicity Jones). Leontes orders Paulina’s husband, Lord Antigonus (Brian Keane) to take the infant to a remote Bohemian desert to die of exposure. Antigonus does so, leaving gold with the baby in the hope that someone will find her. It is indicative of the intelligence of this production that Antigonus’s subsequent pursuit by a bear (Chris Van Zele), is, allegorically speaking, believable, and provides a seamless transition into the fantastical second half of the play.
I don’t know how The Winter’s Tale plays in Miami, but it seems to me that only someone who has endured the harshness of a northern winter followed by the improbable beauty of spring can fully understand how the last two acts of the play can co-exist with the first three. We travel sixteen years into the future, to a bucolic setting in Bohemia filled with the antics of clowns, including the narcissistic Autolycus (Luke Robertson), colorful costumes, music, and revelry. The baby, Perdita (Lupita Nyong’O), found by an old shepherd (Thomas Kopache) and his clown of a son (Richard Ruiz), has grown into a beautiful young woman who has fallen in love with Polixenes’s son, Prince Florizel (played a bit too childishly by Tim Brown). Perdita and her shepherd “father” host a sheepshearing party, a feast of colorful costumes, delightful dances, and beautiful music (Paul Brantley on cello, Michael Compitello and Adam Rosenblatt on percussion, and Jason May, winds) attended by Polixenes and Camillo in camouflage. When Polixenes learns that his royal son is indeed in love with Perdita, a seeming peasant (a taboo as strong as any), the otherwise mild-mannered King of Bohemia rages mercilessly at his son. The young lovers refuse to separate, however, and, aided by Camillo, escape to Sicilia, pursued by Polixenes.
In Sicilia, Leontes, punished by the gods with the death of his wife and their son, has suffered sixteen years of grief and remorse. But as every harsh winter comes to a miraculous end, so too does Leontes’s suffering, as he reunites with his banished child Perdita, his boyhood friend Polixenes, his favorite lord, Camillo, and even his wife, apparently brought back to life through the efforts of her loyal friend, Paulina. Princess Perdita and Prince Florizel marry, and life blossoms in Sicilia once again. The Winter’s Tale, Yale Repertory Theatre, University Theatre, 222 York St., New Haven, CT 203-432-1234. Through April 7th.