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Regional Reviews by Fred Sokol

The Winter's Tale
Yale Rep

The Winter's Tale
Rob Campbell and Susannah Schulman
Those who already love Shakespeare will both appreciate and adore The Winter's Tale as presented by Yale Rep and now at the University Theatre in New Haven. Those who previously have, for example, claimed Shakespeare to be inaccessible or impossible to understand or antiquated might very well find the current production a delightful revelation, even a treat. Running for three hours, this rich and imaginative rendering continues through April 7th.

Michael Yeargan, the award winning designer, frames the early moments with long, long columns which seem to run floor to ceiling. Matt Frey varies the lighting throughout and this includes some very bright moments. Costumer Jennifer Moeller's wardrobe selections are excellent, with the attire seeming to recall the formality of, perhaps, the turn of the nineteenth century into the first decades of the twentieth. Matthew Suttor's creative musical compositions, played precisely by Paul Brantley, Michael Compitello, Adam Rosenblatt and Jason May (musicians seated toward the rear of the stage), are proactive rather than background accompaniment. Randy Duncan supplies nimble choreography for dance numbers. Director Liz Diamond should take a bow for her affecting, inspiring vision for this show—and its sensitive delivery.

Polixenes, King of Bohemia (Hoon Lee), is visiting his childhood friend Leontes, King of Sicilia (Rob Campbell). Queen Hermione (Susannah Schulman) is Leontes' wife and he asks her to help prolong Polixenes' stay in Scilia. Leontes, however, flies into a jealous rage upon seeing these two together and hopes that one of his lords, Camillo (Tyrone Mitchell Henderson), will poison Polixenes. Next, Leontes wishes to imprison Hermione. She gives birth and Paulina (Felicity Jones), a close person to Hermione, takes the baby to Leontes and tells him this is his child. The king, though, is further enraged and Leontes has the infant taken far away. The Delphic Oracle declares that Hermione is innocent but Leontes does not believe the verdict.

Sixteen years pass and so does intermission at the theater. We return to the Kingdom of Bohemia, a colorful and animated place with lanterns hanging delightfully in different locations. The baby is now Perdita (Lupita Nyong'o) and she and Florizel (Tim Brown), who happens to be the son of Polixenes, are a natural couple.

Shakespeare, in this very late play, injects an infusion of comedy amid the drama and anxiety. Autolycus (Luke Robertson) is a spirited pickpocket and peddler who carries on for quite some time with his antics. Well, we have perhaps too much of everything just short of the kitchen sink tossed in here. Actor Chris Van Zele appears briefly but delectably as a Bear ... others are in disguise. The Old Shepherd (Thomas Kopache) is attention-getting. Finally, the plot begins to evolve anew and turns back toward Sicilia. Leontes is now visibly older and repentant. Paulina, who is strong, smart and compassionate, is pivotal during the closing scenes. Leontes is certain that he was once unjust and unloving toward Hermione, whom he assumed dead. There is enough heartbreak to share but resolution/redemption might be possible.

The entirety of The Winter's Tale is a tour de force. Rob Campbell is most convincing as Leontes, at first driven by irrational fury and then calmer and sympathetic. Felicity Jones is ardent, perceptive and mature as Paulina, who stands up to Leontes for her friend Hermione. Paulina is brave and decisive; she criticizes but does not hate Leontes. Jones has performed a number of times at Yale Rep and she shows great discipline. Thomas Kopache draws immediate attention as the Old Shepherd. Susannah Schulman's Hermione is dignified, beautiful, and enduring. Diamond, directing, has coaxed a number of sensitive and deep-felt performances.

The story finds Leontes literally losing many years because he acted harshly and unreasonably; he will never recover that time. Still, The Winter's Tale concludes with a nod toward the future, upcoming generations, and optimism. Thus, it is, in the end, a truly romantic work.

The Winter's Tale is presented at the University Theatre in New Haven as part of Yale Repertory Theatre's season through April 7th. For tickets, call (203) 432-1234 or visit www.yalerep.org.


Photo: Joan Marcus


Also see the current theatre schedule for Connecticut & Beyond

- Fred Sokol



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