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The Winter's Tale

Theatre Review by Matthew Murray

Love, jealousy, and redemption are frequent subjects of many plays, but few playwrights have brought them out in their works as effectively as William Shakespeare. The Stomping Ground Theatre Company has developed those ideas brilliantly in their production of The Winter's Tale now at the American Theater of Actors.

The Stomping Ground Theatre Company focuses not on production concepts, but rather on the script and the acting. Under the direction of Marcus Geduld, those elements shine brightly here. Geduld's company of ten actors performs all the show's roles in ordinary, everyday clothing, yet it never seems out of place. The acting carries the evening.

For example, Lisa Blankenship plays Hermione, the Queen of Sicilia who is accused by her husband Leontes (Walter Brandes) of having an affair with Polixenes, the King of Bohemia (Robert Cardazone). When Leontes puts her on trial for her transgressions, Blankenship is utterly heartbreaking. Karen Ogle plays Paulina, Hermione's starch defender, and renders her speeches with a fiery passion - it's hard to take your eyes off of her. Hermione's daughter Perdita (Julie Thaxter-Gourlay), when grown, is wonderfully young and carefree one moment, and a grown woman the next.

Other great performances come from Steve Hamm as the Prince of Bohemia who falls in love with Perdita, Bradley Goodwill as Camillo, a Sicilian lord who can't betray his queen, and Doug Shapiro as Autolycus, a cagey thief (and the show's primary comic relief).

The only performance of the evening that doesn't ring true is that of the production's Leontes, Walter Brandes. His portrayal seems labored, with the King screaming too much with too little true feeling underneath. This drags the play down somewhat, given Leontes's importance to the story.

Everyone else is so good, though, it's not hard to forgive this production's one misstep. The comfortable company of actors give the easygoing appearance of a group of friends gathered together to perform The Winter's Tale, strengthening each relationship and plot development in the play. Whether you're familiar with the poetic language of Shakespeare's plays or not, the actors make sure the action is impossible to not follow. They work very well individually, but better still as a group.

Perhaps Geduld realized this in the prologues that begin each of the two halves of the evening, where each of the actors delivers different lines or words to set the stage for the story that is to come. It's like one group of friends talking to another group of friends, informal yet vitally important. It's just another added bonus to an already friendly and inviting evening; the sense of community pouring from the stage and into the audience makes this production of The Winter's Tale a winning and warming experience.

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Stomping Ground Theatre Company
The Winter's Tale
Through April 7 American Theatre of Actors Beckmann Theatre, 314 West 54th Street just off 8th Avenue
Schedule and Tickets: (212) 946-1448