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Washington DC by Susan Berlin

The Winter's Tale


Heather Wood, Mark Harelik, Hannah Yelland, and Todd Bartels (background)
A play as whimsical as William Shakespeare's The Winter's Tale needs the audience to accept its premises if it's going to work at all. Washington's Shakespeare Theatre Company and director Rebecca Taichman take the first step by casting only nine actors in all roles, and the audience eagerly takes the rest of the journey.

Shakespeare's famously difficult play consists of a grimly serious first half and a cheerful, even giddy, second half. Through double casting, Taichman finds unsuspected parallels between the wintry court of Sicilia and the sun-drenched world of rural Bohemia.

Christine Jones' scenic design provides the formality of a high white wall with classical trimmings and a few well-chosen pieces of furniture. This setting works on its own in the drama of the first half, as Leontes (Mark Harelik), king of Sicilia, tortures himself by imagining an adulterous relationship between his queen, Hermione (Hannah Yelland), and his boyhood friend Polixenes (Sean Arbuckle), the king of Bohemia. But following intermission, when the action jumps ahead 16 years and moves to the blooming Bohemian countryside, Jones adds exaggerated bits of scenery including oversized butterflies and life-size photos of sheep and Christopher Akerlind's lighting brings in an additional dimension with washes of yellow and green. Costume designer David Zinn uses modern dress as his template, tinkering with fabrics and colors to accommodate the shifts of plot and mood.

The most striking bit of double casting allows Harelik to shed the first-act cares of Leontes and, in the second act, take on the role of the loud-mouthed con man Autolycus. Where the first character is anguished and constrained, the second wears an eyepatch and a sequined cape and speaks in an accent that suggests the Wizard of Oz. Other noteworthy performances are Ted van Griethuysen, first as a Sicilian lord chased offstage by a bear, then seconds later a rustic Bohemian shepherd, and Nancy Robinette, affecting as Hermione's defender Paulina, reappearing briefly as a rowdy shepherdess at a sheep-shearing festival.

Yelland is a radiant Hermione, maintaining her dignity even when forced to defend herself against her husband's baseless charges, and breathtaking in the final scene.

Shakespeare Theatre Company
The Winter's Tale
May 9th June 23rd
By William Shakespeare
Leontes, King of Sicilia/Autolycus, a rogue: Mark Harelik
Hermione, Queen of Sicilia: Hannah Yelland
Polixenes, King of Bohemia: Sean Arbuckle
Mamillius, Prince of Sicilia/Time/Perdita, Princess of Sicilia: Heather Wood
Camillo, a Sicilian lord: Brent Carver
Antigonus, a Sicilian lord/Old Shepherd: Ted van Griethuysen
Paulina, a Sicilian lady/Drunken Shepherdess: Nancy Robinette
Cleomenes, a Sicilian lord/Young Shepherd (Clown): Tom Story
Dion, a Sicilian lord/Florizel, Prince of Bohemia: Todd Bartels
Directed by Rebecca Taichman
Produced in association with McCarter Theatre Center
Harman Center for the Arts, Lansburgh Theatre
450 7th St. N.W.
Washington, DC
Ticket Information: 202-547-1122 or 877-487-8849 or www.shakespearetheatre.org


Photo: T. Charles Erickson.


-- Susan Berlin


Also see the Current Theatre Season Calendar for D.C.



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