Tuesday, July 13, 2010

The Winter's Tale

I walked home floating on air last night after seeing Shakespeare in the Park’s staging of The Winter's Tale at the Delacorte Theater. Director Michael Greif and a cast that is perfect across the board bring to life this story of alienation and reconciliation, destruction and rebirth -- with its healthy dose of romance. This production is three hours of theatre at its best.

The mood for a tall tale to enfold is set right from the start with Mark Wendland’s fire pot and candlelit set, Clint Ramos’ gorgeous costumes and Kenneth Posner’s lighting. Although it was a hot summer night in Central Park, cool breezes swept the theatre as this story meant for a long winter night’s entertainment played out.

Act One is ruled by vengeance and its aftermath. Leontes, King of Sicilia, (Ruben Santiago-Hudson, in photo center) suspects that his good friend Polixenes, King of Bohemia, (Jesse L. Martin, right) is really the father of the baby his wife, Hermione (a commanding Linda Emond, left), is carrying. His rage leads to the death of his son, Prince Mamillius (Alexander Maier), followed by Hermione shortly after she gives birth to Perdita (played as an adult in Act Two by Heather Lind). Leontes decrees that the infant should be abandoned in the wilderness to die alone. Fortunately she is found by an old shepherd (Max Wright) who raises her as his own.

I don’t want to give away the delightful surprises of Act Two, which takes place 16 years later. The ending is one of Shakespeare’s happiest, and it is shimmeringly presented. The effect is magical.

Two other performances that deserve a shout out are Marianne Jean-Baptiste for her powerful portrayal of Paulina, a lady of the court who remains loyal to Hermione, and Antigonus (Gerry Bamman) as her husband. I also loved composer Tom Kitt’s score.

The Winter’s Tale runs in repertory with The Merchant of Venice through Aug. 1. Both are among the best Shakespeare in the Park productions I have ever seen.

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