Theatre Mirror Reviews - "The Winter’s Tale"

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note: entire contents copyright 2007 by Carl A. Rossi


by William Shakespeare
directed by Curt L. Tofteland

Leontes … Ricardo Pitts-Wiley
Hermione; Servant … Paula Langton
Polixenes; Mariner; 2nd Gentleman … Joel Colodner
Antigonus; Shepherd … Richard Snee
Paulina; Shepherdess … Bobbie Steinbach
Florizel; Lord … James Ryen
Perdita … Cristi Miles
Clown; Archidamus; Officer … Doug R G Lockwood
Camillo; Jailor … Doublas Theodore
Autolycus; Cleomenes … John Kuntz
Mamillius … Oliver Stickney
1st Gentleman; Emilia; Mopsa; Ensemble … Mara Sidmore
1st Lady; Dion; Dorcas; 3rd Gentleman … Christine Hamel

My last encounter with the Actors’ Shakespeare Project (ASP) was its TWELFTH NIGHT where nearly everything jelled. The ASP is now nearing its end of THE WINTER’S TALE and how good to see that its ensemble continues to grow --- and grow it must, for the company, bolstered by guest artists, contains few Shakespeareans in terms of sweep, presence and the ability to make Elizabethan verse palatable to modern ears, just as some singers are meant for opera and others for musical comedy. Thus, the ASP, despite its bare-bones aesthetic, is dependent upon its directors. For THE WINTER’S TALE, Curt L. Tofteland has staged this Romance of winter/jealousy and summer/forgiveness in the round with a minimum of fuss (i.e. Mamillius’ teddybear as a running motif down to the very end; Leontes’ paranoia suggested by whispers from the unseen cast); as so often happens in the round, the actors are forever turning this way and that for the audience’s sake rather than for one another; their declamation ping-ponging about the room. THE WINTER’S TALE poses three challenges: Leontes’ sudden jealousy (the ultimate mood-swing), the bear that pursues Antigonus to his death, and the wedding of comedy and tragedy. There may very well be no easy way of pulling off Leontes’ unexpected rant, especially when his wife, his childhood friend, and his kingdom are just as unprepared as we are --- Leontes must go instantly mad for the plot’s sake and that is that. Mr. Tofteland has his Leontes dandling Mamillius on the sidelines, looking up to catch Hermione and Polixenes being affectionate but, then, I was watching for Leontes’ reaction while others were not --- that first scene belongs to Leontes and his observations must be kept in focus to make as much sense as possible. The bear becomes an acting-class exercise for the ensemble and then, in a brilliant moment akin to a cinematic dissolve, the actors turn and become grazing sheep about the abandoned baby, paving the way for healing laughter --- brilliant! The tragedy and comedy is seamlessly joined, partly because of the bare-bones approach, partly because Mr. Tofteland keeps everything --- entrances, exits, stage business --- stylistically the same.

Ricardo Pitts-Wiley is more impressive in Leontes’ quiet, purged moments than in his frenzied ones which become so much bluster after a while yet such contrasts between the explosive and the gentle could make for a compelling Othello; by contrast, Joel Colodner’s Polixenes is silver-tongued and limber, his declamation endlessly revealing his character (here is a Shakespearean actor). In contrast to Mr. Pitts-Wiley, Bobbi Steinbach is at her best when Paulina is talking tough then goes lax in her lyrical Act Two moments --- I’m still waiting for her Hecuba, beaten but not bowed; perhaps she will touch my heart, then. Richard Snee’s recent Sankt Nikolaus at the Christmas Revels was far more Shakespearean than his Antigonus and Shepherd: Mr. Snee previously expanded in a cartoon role whereas the Bard’s verse keeps him awed and earthbound. Doublas Theodore’s accent renders his Camillo almost incomprehensible but is balanced by his gravelly-voiced Jailer, the evening’s most Elizabethan turn, and the boy-actor Oliver Stickney makes an enchanting, sober-sided Mamillius. John Kuntz’s Autolycus is a modern-day Life of the Party, complete with saxophone (the others are garbed in “timeless” fashion); I was prepared for Mr. Kuntz’s familiar mean-spiritedness but amazingly --- happily --- his rogue is almost loveable and if Elvis Costello, when bearded, is handsome, then so is Mr. Kuntz. I doubt Mr. Kuntz will ever become a true ensemble player --- he remains a center-stage Personality, full of his own tricks --- he will be appearing in the ASP’s all-male TITUS ANDRONICUS, and I doubt he will be loveable, there… A smart actress knows that Hermione is a plum role: she is the center of adoration even in her ninth month of pregnancy, she is incredibly moving when plucked from prison, her womb now empty, to eloquently plead her innocence, she continues to receive praise, posthumously, and she reappears as the magical statue come to life --- Paula Langdon plays her as a competent businesswoman, swollen and all, if not the Vice President of Sicilia; there is nothing milky or maternal about her performance --- Hermione must be the fertile earth soon to be blasted by Leontes’ madness --- but, then, today’s actresses tend to play Shakespearean heroines without warmth, comeliness or vulnerability. On the night I attended, Ms. Langdon appeared to be nursing a sore throat; the resulting huskiness helped to soften her take-charge approach.

The ASP continues to use monotonous, numbing underscoring in ominous moments --- unnecessary layering when such music lies embedded in the verse --- and if composer Peter Bayne was the young man being endlessly Impressionistic at the piano, beforehand, the impression he made was an annoying one; after awhile, I thought of a 1962 François Truffaut film starring Charles Aznavour --- I leave its title to film sleuths.

"The Winter's Tale" (25 January - 18 February)
Cambridge Multicultural Arts Center, 41 Second Street, CAMBRIDGE, MA
1 (866) 811-4111

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