Connecticut Repertory Theatre’s THE WINTER’S TALE arrives in time for Spring
Last Fall, when I discovered that UConn’s Connecticut Repertory Theatre would be producing Shakespeare's The Winter's Tale at the exact same time as Yale Repertory Theatre, I was delighted for four reasons. First, I have never seen this rarely-produced, notoriously tricky play by the Bard. Second, it's not often that two theatres in close proximity are doing the same play at the same time inviting side-by-side comparison. Third, UConn's CRT has grown in depth and consistency under the Artistic Direction of Vincent Cardinal, while Yale Rep and Yale School of Drama productions can vacillate from top-notch to over-indulgent. As Yale would undoubtedly be seen as the Goliath in this Shakespearean cage match, I was eager to see how CRT's scrappy David would fare. Fourth, how often do you get to see an actor chased off-stage to be consumed by a bear not once, but TWICE in a week? Not often enough, methinks.
Watching The Winter's Tale, I was reminded of the first time I had seen As You Like It. The first half of the play is very much a tragedy, filled with dark jealousy and political machinations. King Leontes of Sicilia suspects his pregnant wife Hermione of committing adultery with his brother, King Polixenes of Bohemia. Hermione gives birth to Leontes' daughter Perdita and then dies of a broken heart. Leontes instructs that Perdita is to be taken away an abandoned by another courtier, Antigonus, who is, in turn, eaten by a bear. Apollo foretells through his Oracle at Delphi that Leontes will have no peace until he is reunited with his daughter. Tragic.
As in As You Like It, once the action moves from the militaristic Sicilia to the pastoral Bohemia, the drama transforms into a comedy replete with bumpkins clowning, secret disguises and nary a bear in sight. Perdita, now grown and adopted by a shepherd, is secretly in love with Florizel, Prince of Bohemia and son of Polixenes. Complications and merriment ensue.
Director Dale AJ Rose steers the cast, comprised of MFA and BFA students, with an assured hand. They all display ease with Shakespeare's tricky language and seem comfortable with their characters. Rose is less successful with making the two disparate halves of the play seem a whole. Indeed, the production almost feels bifurcated, an effect that is further amplified by costume designer Tiffany Delligatti's mix of 19th century suits and dresses, Ancient Greece-by-way-of-Venice Carnivale ritual wear, and rustic shepherd clothing.
Brad Brinkley, as the fascist-turned-penitent Leontes, makes a fearsome leader, but over-relies on choreographed hand gestures. If he trusted the language and the audience further, he would not need to telegraph his every intention with gesticulation. Colby Lewis makes a fine, stalwart Polixenes, while Dariusz Burkowski is an excellent Camillo. Three of the standouts in the male cast are Andrea Pane as Antigonus, James Thomas Jelkin as Autolycus, and Thomas Brazzle as the Old Shepherd.
The finest performance is rendered by Sarah Wintermeyer as the brave Paulina. Her chastising face-offs with Leontes show that the Bard's women can be every bit as strong as the men (or, in this case, stronger). Olivia Saccomanno makes for a heartbreaking Hermione, easily transitioning from courtly Queen to an emotionally destitute captive. Kaitlyn Gorman is a lovely Perdita who transforms from a lowly shepherdess to the perfect princess. Overall, the ensemble highlights the encouraging prospects of UConn's strengthening drama program. Special accolades to Darchyk Tereshenko for his sweet performance as young Mamillius; his future on the stage seems bright, as well.
Bart Roccoberton, the master puppeteer, creates the legendary bear that chases Antigonus to his doom. As always, the UConn puppetry institute supplies a delightful creation that is, unfortunately, a little less menacing and a little cuddlier than this fearsome predator deserves. All in all, CRT’s The Winter's Tale is a fine way to usher in the Spring.