TheaterHop: The Winter’s Tale
Written by Bwog Staff
Bwog apologizes profusely for the late arrival of this review. This afternoon’s technical difficulties prevented us from posting it earlier. If you can hurry to the Wien Lounge for the final performance of The Winter’s Tale, do so now. It begins at eight—run!
As odd as it may seem there are traces of Othello, Lear and The Tempest all in The Winter’s Tale. The relatively lesser known Shakespeare play is at once a political play, a domestic drama and a romantic comedy. The combination of these disparate genres could lend itself to satire, perhaps even pastiche, but in KCST’s current production directors Stephanie Denzer and Katie Logan bring impressive candor and earnestness to The Winter’s Tale. Indeed, its moments of drama are as fraught and powerful as its moments of comedy are natural and entertaining.
The first act of the play opens on the unadorned make-shift stage of the Wien Lounge. Although the cavernous lounge is not an ideal performance space, the direct lack of stage design is hard to ignore. Aside from an ominously ticking metronome, an hour-glass and the occasional flourish of artificial snow, the staging team opts for sterile straightforwardness over artful design. As the play unfolds, however, it is clear that the barrenness of the stage is a directorial choice—and a fine one at that.
By and large, the first act details the psychological and political drama of Leontes (Jake Green), the rather draconian king of Sicilia. In his performance, Green, however, expresses some of the king’s uncertainty and affords sympathy to his character’s ostensibly unmotivated irrationality. The audience quickly picks up on the said irrationality when within the first scene of the play Green’s Leontes moves with alarming impetuousness from praising the virtues of his wife Hermoine (played by an effortless regal Lee Havlicek) to accusing her of adultery. From here, the the deterioration of Leontes, his marriage and his family is the focus of the rather drawn out first act. Despite of its length and its inevitably dreary subject matter, the actors, especially Havlicek and Michael Leibring playing Camillo, a lord conflicted by Leontes’ abuse of royal prerogative, build palpable tension and give their respective performances and the entire production admirable force.
The first scene culminates with a dramatic courtroom scene in which Leontes ruthlessly sentences Hermione to prison despite the better judgment of his counselors and the impassioned pleas of his dignified, but now, humbled wife. The contrast between Green’s performance and Havelicek’s is unsettling, almost awkward. But the audience’s discomfort is not necessarily a criticism. The audience cannot help but squirm as Green stands off stage left with cool indifference and Havelicek weeps bitterly on her knees center-stage.
But just as the performance reaches its dramatic climax, the action comes to a literal standstill. The effect is powerful. Logan and Denzer direct their cast skillfully and their creative vision comes to startling realization when the ghostly specter of time emerges from the audience and shrieks out. Immediately freezing mid-motion and mid-sentence, the actors handle the sudden break in action with impressive timing and choreography.
As if to make up for its slow beginning, The Winter’s Tale packs in as much dramatic action as it can before the close of the first act. Incarcerated confrontations, courtroom drama and shipwrecks, however, quickly give way to the pastoral settings of Bohemia.
With this shift in setting comes a marked shift in tenor. Soon after entering, a wisecracking old shepherd (played by the ever endearing Dan Blank) and his ridiculous, and oddly charismatic son, the Clown (played by a lively Brian LePerche) easily have the audience laughing aloud for the first time in the performance. Blank and LePerche have a certain comedic chemistry and their initial exchange sets the tone for the unprecedented folly that ensues in the second act.
As the second act open it is clear that the sterility that characterized the Sicilian court of the first act is easy to forget amongst the vibrant colors and spirited songs and dances of Bohemia. Although the shift is abrupt—unavoidably so—but the cast and crew of KCST’s The Winter’s Tale handle it gracefully. Instead of trying to diminish the disparity between the acts, the production embraces it.