Appropriately, the first snow of the season took place on the opening night of KCST’s production of The Winter’s Tale. Bwogger Sarah Harty attended last night’s performance and is here to tell you why you should trek through the slush and go to the Glicker-Milstein Theatre.
The director’s note in the program for The Winter’s Tale acknowledges that it’s one of Shakespeare’s lesser known works, and one that doesn’t easily fall into a comedy/tragedy/history category so well as, say, last spring’s Hamlet. It’s what’s affectionately known as a “problem play”, with the first two acts focusing on a Lear-like downfall of a king and the last three on irreverent jokes more reminiscent of Twelfth Night. In this production, director Aydan Shahd (BC ’20) attempts to solve the problem by making some serious alterations to the ending, resulting in some equally serious emotional payoff.
The most famous thing about Winter is the stage direction “Exit, pursued by a bear.” It’s even on the commemorative shirts sported by the cast and crew. The bear chase takes place right in the middle of the play, in Act III, Scene 3, but KCST doesn’t make you wait, instead shifting it to the opening scene. We hear Antigonus’ (Jared Rush, CC ’21) monologue, and then the animal appears, played by the chorus (Arielle Firestone, GS/JTS ’19, Yaël Cohen, CC ’19, and Isabel Daly, BC ’19) with the help of what looks like a very well done papier-mâché bear head (credit to Props Designer Kay Kemp, CC ’22). A baby, in the form of a glowing orb, is abandoned. You know already that it’s about to go down.
And indeed it does. The difficult plot and almost three-hour runtime threaten to weigh down the show, but stellar performances from many of its lead actors kept it afloat and entertaining. I overheard an audience member say that India Beer (BC ’20) was really bringing her A-game as Hermione, and I would agree, also extending the sentiment to Oona Mackinnon-Hoban’s (BC ’21) Paulina and Tom Phelan’s (CC ’20) Leontes. All the aforementioned performances made me cry at some point, so props. They were able to take possible throwaway lines and deliver them in a heart-wrenching manner, showing how it really feels when family and friendships are ripped apart because of one person’s folly and delusions.
On the other side of the tragedy-comedy spectrum, I also really enjoyed Viviana Prado-Nuñez’s (CC ’20) Shepard, Genevieve K. Henderson’s (BC ’19) Clown, and Sophia Seidenberg’s (BC ’19) Autolycus, who supplemented their acting with singing and dancing skills. All three had excellent comedic timing and made the Bohemian dance sequence a delight to watch.
The changed ending dramatically alters one’s perception of the show as a whole. Some Shakespeare plays have a tendency to wrap everything up very nicely at the end (see: the couples in A Midsummer Night’s dream, or, again, Twelfth Night). KCST took Winter’s ending and turned it on its head, making it ambiguous at best and devastating at worst. It was a risk, to be sure, but as long as you’re not a purist, I think you’ll find it pays off. Shahd also notes that one of the themes of the play is disobedience – what better way to honor the Bard than practicing some yourself?
The Winter’s Tale has performances Friday, November 16, and Saturday, November 17, at 8 pm in the Glicker-Milstein Theatre. Tickets are sold out, but the waitlist opens at 7pm both nights.