Secrets and Lies
Loyalty is tested in
Hampshire Shakespeare's The Winter's Tale
Shakespeare fans will find this remark blasphemous, but let it be said
nonetheless: The Bard screwed up on the ending to his Winter's Tale.
Indeed, the final scene of this tragicomedy has the cheeseball feel
of a crowd-pleasing Hollywood production, the kind of flick where miracles
happen in the nick of time and characters stroll off into the sunset outfitted
with gleaming, goofy smiles. But if Shakespeare takes a sharp turn
into Schmaltzville in the waning moments of The Winter's Tale, he
deserves forgiveness: The rest of this glorious play about love, faith
and loyalty entirely compensates for his misstep.
Local theatergoers have the opportunity to see this infrequently performed
work in a truly idyllic setting. Hampshire Shakespeare Company is
presenting its production of The Winter's Tale under the stars at
the Hartsbrook School, where the moon lights the stage and grazing cows
occasionally wander up from their pasture to take in the proceedings.
A cast of about 40 performers appears in the Hampshire Shakespeare production,
including members of HSC's Young Company, who will present their own version
of The Winter's Tale in August. Where other theater companies
pay scant attention to underage performers -- casting them as trees or silent
moppets -- it's commendable that the folks at HSC have given many of their
young players genuine responsibilities. And while there's obviously
a gulf of experience between the young and adult performers, director Benjamin
Ware makes the tension work.
In an era in which contemporary updates of Shakespeare's plays abound
-- on the silver screen, we've seen Hamlet as a hipster New Yorker, the
characters in Love's Labour's Lost as denizens in a 1930s musical
-- it's almost a relief to see a straightforward interpretation of the Bard's
work. HSC's production is lively throughout -- an accomplishment in
and of itself, given that The Winter's Tale tops three hours.
Marck Morrison stars as Leontes, the King of Sicilia, who is attempting
to persuade Polixenes, King of Bohemia, to extend his visit. Leontes'
efforts prove unsuccessful, so he enlists his wife Hermione, whose charm
works wonders on Polixenes. Indeed, Leontes wonders if there's a
bit too much charm in the air; as he observes his wife and his best buddy
huddled in conversation, he becomes convinced that the two are romantically
involved -- and that Polixenes is the father of Hermione's unborn child.
In short order, Leontes asks one of his henchmen to poison Polixenes
and has Hermione imprisoned; when Hermione's baby is born, Leontes asks
yet another henchman to abandon the child in some desert place.
A play that begins as a tragedy gradually evolves into a comedy -- the
reverse, as the director notes, of the progression of Romeo and Juliet.
The cast handles the transition with aplomb, and the women -- especially
Sally-Anne Dunn as Hermione, Sandra Blaney as Perdita and Amy Ware as Paulina
-- prove particularly up to the task.
The only missteps come from two of the men in the cast. As Leontes,
Marck Morrison isn't always able to bring the gravity to his performance
that the role seems to demand; as his right-hand man Camillo, Kerry David
Strayer often delivers reactions that feel canned or premature, as though
he's anticipating what is about to be said. But on the whole, the
HSC production is well worth your while -- even if you might be wishing
for a cushion for your folding chair.
The Winter's Tale by William Shakespeare. Directed by Benjamin Ware. Under the stars
at the Hartsbrook School, 193 Bay Road, Hadley, 548-8118. Through July 28.