Regional Reviews: Chicago
The Winter's Tale
Also see John's review of Plaid Tidings
King Leontes of Sicilia has come to believe his Queen, Hermione (Anne Korajczyk), is having an affair and is carrying a child by his lifelong friend Polixenes (Mark Pracht), King of neighboring Bohemia. He's the only one who believes that. All the lords of his court try to convince him otherwise and there's not a shred of hard evidence to support his fears, but he's not to be swayed. To buy this even as the supporting characters don't, we must be absolutely convinced of Leontes' obsession. Lemieux conveys all the pain and barely suppressed rage of his character, giving us a sad and frightening King who easily holds center stage for most of the first three acts (there's one intermission between acts three and four) while his Queen and court show their horror at the injustices he will commit to defend his honor. With strong support from Korajczyk, Thad Anzur as Leontes' trusted Lord, and Elizabeth Christine Tanner as Lady Paulina, it's an intense hour and twenty minutes. Hermione is imprisoned and tried, their young prince dies of grief, and the infant daughter Leontes believes to be the child of King Polixenes is abandoned on the brutal wintry shores of Bohemia, to likely die of exposure or an attack by a bear. Those of us who know even a little about Shakespeare understand that in his work "comedy" refers to a play in which nobody dies, but even so, this is pretty rough stuff, especially when played for keeps with the honest emotion of Peter Robel's direction.
Things lighten up after the intermission when we see that the infant princess has survived, having been raised by a shepherd (Rus Rainear). She's grown into a stunning young woman and is being secretly wooed by King Polixenes' son, Prince Florizel. He doesn't let on to her that he's a prince, and neither of them know she's actually a princess, so when Dad finds out, he naturally disapproves big time. By this point, even the non-Shakespearean scholars in the audience (like me) know that things are going to turn out all right in the end, and we can relax and enjoy the comic performances by Rainear, Martin Monahan as his simpleton son and Julian Martinez as Autolycus, a "rogue" who delays the happy resolution through deceit and pick pocketing. Charming performances are also given by Nicholas Ward as the idealistic and impetuous young prince, and Judith Lesser as the soon-to-be-recognized-as Princess Perdita. (In the first half, Lesser also plays, in baggy clothes and backwards baseball cap, her doomed Game Boy-playing older brother, Prince Mamillius.)
Robel has also contributed an impressive original background score that helps establish the sadness of the first half and eases the transition into the lighter second half. The cast performs his music for songs and a dance in the second half. The modern-dress costumes by Anthony Apodaca help clarify the roles of the characters by giving the audience contemporary frames of reference. Leontes and the lords of Sicilia are dressed in stern business suits adorned by military stripes, while the youths and peasants of Bohemia sport grunge. The minimal set by Andrew Marchetti consists of just a few platforms, but that's enough. The words of Shakespeare in the natural and unpretentious readings of this cast tell us enough about the environment. Less successful is the production's use of video sequences shown on two small monitors. These uncredited sequences provide wintry landscapes, scenes in Leontes' memory, and even an original closing moment in which the ghost of Prince Mamillius returns to share in the joy of reconciliation. The video adds to the communication, but suffers from the small screens, awkwardness in switching them on and off, and simply a lower level of professionalism than we enjoy in the live action.
Bohemia's The Winter's Tale is a rewarding and enjoyable production for those schooled in Shakespeare or not, and a chance to see some impressive newcomers to the Chicago theatre scene. Bohemia's borrowed space at the Breadline Theatre is out of the way, but for a venue of its type (apparently a renovated factory), quite comfortable.
The Winter's Tale will be performed Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays at 8 pm, and Sundays at 2 pm through December 18, 2005, at Breadline Theatre, 1802 W. Berenice Avenue, Chicago. For tickets ($18 in advance, $20 at the door, group rates available), call the BoHo box office at: 773-791-2393 or go to www.BoHoTheatre.com.