What they say it is:
Internationally-acclaimed director Guy Hollands joins us from Scotland to reinvent this tale of kings and queens, revenge and betrayal, spanning countries, seasons, decades, and generations. Inspired by ancient pagan festivals, our Winter’s Tale will feature live music, dance, food and merriment. Join us for this celebration of transformation and the healing powers of forgiveness.
A Friday night treat–some Shakespeare with my husband. I had not read A Winters Tale prior to the People’s Light and Theater presentation. I must begin by mentioning the striking visual choices used in this production–this highly stylized show was Shakespeare, Tim Burton, and Night Circus (a great book–look it up, Clay didn’t know what it was). However, the beautiful set design began even before you arrived at the the actual stage–outside the theater, the entrance and patio had been turned into a gathering place for the audience, sort of a small stage area decorated with fire braziers and strings of tin lamps featuring various cuttings and designs. Even better, nature provided a blanket of snow to highlight the bohemian and romantic atmosphere of the night. Warm hot cider was provided free of charge.
The show’s costuming was done in wonderful texture, utilizing black and white striped lace. . . a very carnival appearance. The stage set featured two very large, amazing ‘wreathes’ above the stage . . . one featuring a bear with red and wintery details–take note of the horns symbolizing the protagonist’s belief that he is a cuckold in the first act. In the second act, the second wreath featured a sheep and spring flowers symbolizing the renewal of life and hope for the young lovers.
The players not only delivered the Bards words, but many were also featured instrumentalists. One standout thespian was Paulina. She was passionate in her delivery, and perhaps I also just really admired the character she played. I also quite enjoyed the Shepard dance performed by the teenage ensemble (I am sure I would have dropped the dancing prop/stick multiple times, so kudos for a well-done dance!).
I must also take time to mention two other performers. The host was admirably funny during the later acts when his role as the thieving clown become more prominent. Also, the Shepard’s son (Florizel, played by Bernardo Cubria) was a stand out, from the moment when he entered the show (fleeing and screaming from the man-eating bear) to his most gentlemanly roles in the concluding scenes, Florizel was consistent and entertaining. His somewhat effeminate, simple character was intensely loveable, even as a womanizing scamp during the sheep-shearing. The scene he shared with his father, see-sawing between sitting and standing, was another small but welcome touch.
I regret there were not more audience members for this wonderful show. I am certain that a large and participatory audience would go far to advance the enjoyable nature of this performance, seeing as the characters actively break the fourth wall and engage the audience at various points of the Tale. With respect to our own participation, I am happy we braved the snowpocalypse to watch the Witch of Winter burn. Thank you to People’s Light and Theater for including the outdoor features of the show, even despite the falling snow! Thank you People’s Light and Theater, we had a wonderful night with you and the bard.
I want to commend Tara for sending me her review before I had time to pen a single word. As readers may note, I (Clay) typically come at the head of the post; this is not because I am male and must always come first; simply, I often write my review ahead of Tara, so her comments take the form of followup to my own. Maybe that iPad she got for Christmas is paying off. ;’]
Good times were had at the Winter’s Tale. I do have fondness for the People’s Light and Theater (although their moniker’s peculiar “and” always flummoxes me a bit–what’s a ‘People’s Light‘?), and although the trip to PL&T takes us several miles outside of Philadelphia (and therefore, technically outside of our blog’s stated geographic scope) i love going there. Let’s call it “Philly area” and be done with it. Due to the “weeknight” nature of this play, we didn’t have adequate time to visit the awesome vegan restaurant (SuTao Cafe) right up the road, but another time. We’d probably have gotten too full to stay awake, anyway.
It is regrettable we didn’t arrive a bit earlier; we have two wonderful dogs, and so we stayed at home until nearly the last minute to give them adequate love and attention (we have yet to find an indoor theater that allows canines in the audience…when we do, rest assured, it will be our favorite venue…) and so we missed what appeared to be a very cool (pun intended) outdoor ‘winter’s tale’ gathering on the porch of the theater. Open wood braziers were lit with cozy winter fires, tin lamps were strung overhead (creating a candlelit appearance), and hot cider was on-hand. Sadly, we were among the last to arrive (hey, 14 minutes to showtime isn’t bad!), and the majority of the +50s crowd had already headed inside to their seats.
The house, as Tara mentioned, was only perhaps half full (the result, I suspect, of overblown media attention on a northeast snowstorm that would barely touch the Philly region) and the house manager cajoled us (along with others) into sitting much closer to the stage (deep left, 3 rows from the action) than we would typically have preferred. However, our resulting seats made the action seem very close and personal, and I do think it probably helps the actors feel closer and connected to the audience.
In spite of holding degrees in literature and a lifelong love of Shakespeare, this is another of his works which I’d never read. I reflect that it is a priceless treasure to be in my 30s and still have completely fresh, unfamiliar Shakespeare to enjoy–perhaps my obsession with “saving” experiences isn’t so crazy after all. Nevertheless, WS’ plays tend to run along familiar lines, with A Winter’s Tale reflecting aspects as varied as Hamlet, Macbeth, The Tempest, Midsummer’s Night, and others. Viewing aWT for the first time, I experienced that strange sensation of having been here before . . . yet I hadn’t. Not being familiar with the work or the associated critical views, I wonder if the play’s relative obscurity (compared with the bigger hits) could be related to the drastic shift in tempo and themes between the early and later acts; it’s the sort of thing I could imagine a critic calling a mark of immaturity, or even a flaw in the show’s design. The first acts deal with Leontes’ decent into obsession/madness and his ruination of lives around him, while the later sections deal with the more lighthearted days of love, rejuvination, and rebirth. Sure, the play’s structure is meant to reflect the turn of seasons, but as played by PL&T, it seemed to be a notably violent theatrical shift, moving from the world of a brooding Hamlet straight into clownish antics akin to a drunken Falstaff or Faery romp. Just my opinion, maaaaan. I liked it–don’t get me wrong.
As far as the cast goes, I thought this group of actors were a fine group of players well worth my $25 ticket. To offer a bit of counterpoint, Tara had a higher opinion of the high-school students who were included in supporting dance and song numbers. Make no mistake–I am completely in favor of giving younger actors roles in major shows–cultivate the arts and next generation, by all means. However, I did tend to find their roles a bit over-obvious and perhaps shoehorned into the show, though I may only be sensitive to their presence since Tara pointed it out. Harnessing the power of free labor is certainly a good way to expand the cast-count while keeping ticket prices low. ;’] On the other hand, the youthful-looking woman (she really fooled me into thinking she was somewhere around 14 years old) cast as Perdita (Saige Hassler) was amazing in the dual roles of prince and princess (thankfully the prince dies off in the early acts, giving her an easier time of it), and I probably would give the MVP to Christopher Patrick Mullen as Leontes, who managed that impossibly difficult role of the classic Shakespeare “brooding king” with class and grace, while also investing the show with the power, anger, and believability that can be tough to raise up. I would, however note my personal fondness for the accent and delivery of Peter DeLaurier as Antigonus/Sheppard–I suspect that Mr. DeLaurier was raised somewhere south of the Mason Dixon, and perhaps even west of the Mississippi–the lovable twang of his native Alabama, Kentucky, or perhaps Tennessee couldn’t be hidden, even when wrapped within Shakespeare’s epic poetry. Something about this unexpected juxtaposition had me in stitches, though in a sincerely respectful way. Honestly, it worked, and made me love the character even more.
SPOILER ALERT (if such a thing can exist for a play nearly 400 years old): It is embarrassing for me to admit that, though I should have seen it coming a mile away, I did not realize that Leontes’ wife (Hermione) had not perished as reported by Paulina, but was instead hidden away and saved from death until Leontes’ was miraculously cured of his madness. As I said before, I’d never read aWT, and though Shakespeare often utilizes these sorts of devices, I was under the impression–based on earlier acts–that this was a tragedy, not a hybrid affair with comedy in the endgame. Nicely played, William–you got me.
The night wrapped with the cast parading out of the theater, leaving the impression that we should follow. Thinking of the time we exited the venue to see a car crushed by the theatrical cannonball (Phish, NYE, Miami Florida, 2009), I rushed us out into the night of gorgeous falling snow. We were the first to arrive at the site of the burning of the Winter Witch, though the irony couldn’t be more delicious or appropriate–the incoming snow squall prevented the wooden witch from catching flame, and so the excellently-staged 4th-wall concept ended up being something of a comic, lackluster affair. No complaints here, however–I’ll take any excuse to stand outside in a starry, snowy night of winter with my super cool wife at the conclusion to a great evening of art.