The Winter's Tale
A late Shakespeare play, this one finds Leontes (Jonathan Epstein), King of Sicilia, suspicious and jealous of his wife Hermione (Elizabeth Aspenlieder). He is convinced that Hermione is having an affair with his old friend Polixenes (Johnny Lee Davenport), King of Bohemia. Leontes wishes to poison Polixenes but the latter escapes. A furious and irrationally raging Leontes puts his wife in prison, persuaded that she has committed adultery. Hermione gives birth to a child, but Leontes is certain that the baby is not legitimate and the infant is sent off. At the Court of Justice, Hermione claims her innocence. The Delphic Oracle proclaims that she is not guilty. But, Leontes does not accept the verdict. Well, sixteen years pass and the baby grows into a lovely young woman named Perdita (Kelly Galvin). Courted by Prince Florizel (Ryan Winkles), she is seemingly destined to marry the young man. Once, Leontes thought Hermione had died but this plot will turn. In the end, there is much reconciliation and redemption.
Jonathan Epstein, who scored as a leading man time and again for nearly two decades at Shakespeare & Company, returns to Founders' Theater with a resounding, versatile, and completely captivating performance as Leontes. The past few years, Epstein has shared center stage at Stockbridge's Berkshire Theatre Festival in such plays as One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest and Amadeus. Elizabeth Aspenlieder, as the company moved to its new, current locale, has established herself with the Lenox-based theater as an actress whose comic timing is precise and even enviable. She has been featured recently in Rough Crossing, The Ladies Man, Bad Dates and Les Liaisons Dangereuses. Perhaps fewer theatergoers realize that she is quite adept, too, with so-called serious drama. Her compassionate and beautiful performance as Hermione, a woman who is heartbroken, is vastly sustaining. Aspenlieder's accolades are most deserving.
Supporting personnel, too, need to be cited. Shakespeare & Company's Corinna May (who is in her nineteenth company season) is ardent and knowing as Paulina, a woman who advocates for Hermione. Dana Harrison, a relative newcomer, distinguishes herself with physical antics and mugging as Mopsa, a bawdy lass. Malcolm Ingram, who has acted at many regional theaters and on Broadway, is triple cast. He speaks with his given British accent as Archidamus and Gaoler. As the Old Shepherd, he rids himself of that dialect. Throughout, Ingram is excellent. The director's son, Wolfe Coleman, is cast as Young Shepherd. Take it a step further: this is the representative of the twenty and early thirty-something generation of shepherds. Wolfe Coleman has an energetic, youthful presenceand he possesses a fine feel for comic moments.
As mentioned earlier, the play moves from drama to comedy during, especially, the opening minutes after intermission of the performance. Here Jason Asprey (Autolycus) takes over. Asprey, recalled by some for his fine portrayal of the title character in Hamlet here for a couple of season, plays a man who partially collects and sells odd trifles and has the swift and nifty hands of a master pickpocket. Nimble and entertaining, the wiry Asprey is a sideshow unto himself, and Kevin Coleman, ever clever and on the lookout for humor, maximizes this fine actor's time on stage.
On the one hand, I am delighted that Shakespeare once again affirms his genius by demonstrating that The Winter's Tale includes all modes of theater. Coleman has an eclectic notion for comic moments. He releases his actors but they are not without discipline. His direction allows them freedom within context. Yet, the amusement might very well draw attention from that other and most emotional through-line of this play. I sat anxiously in anticipation of that moment when the text would move back to its central human and poignant theme. Hermione was good, patient, and long-suffering. Leontes, flawed, is far from a bad guy. When Leontes received word of what he thought was his wife's death, he was remorseful. His and Hermione's son, the young prince Mamillius (either Parker Bell-Devaney or Colin Young) dies and Leontes is heartbroken. It is somewhat difficult not to either wonder about or ponder them. What has become of them? Other performers, however, are frolicking and dancing (and doing so with great zest and capability) about the stage.
The Winter's Tale continues at Shakespeare & Company in Lenox, Massachusetts through September 5th in Founders' Theatre. For ticket information, call (413) 637-3353 or visit Shakespeare.org.
- Fred Sokol