‘Winter’s Tale’ tips to comedy
By LARRY PARNASS, Staff Writer
Tuesday, July 23, 2002 -- HADLEY - A famously schizophrenic comedy, "The Winter's Tale," does eventually get funny, wonderfully funny, once a jealous king quits waving a sword in a baby's face and we move from that tyrant's court to the pleasure-seeking world of shepherds.
Director Benjamin Ware's enormous cast, in the current production by the Hampshire Shakespeare Company, nails both sides of Shakespeare's coin, the tragedy and the farce. But it can't help show how much more fun it is to party.
The company was in top form under a bright moon Sunday, letting comic incident bubble up everywhere. In a rowdy bash during Act II, a hilarious unscripted story played out for at least 10 minutes among a shepherd's son and the two maids (Elaine Y. Qualter and Emily List) vying for him.
Such hijinks instill a wonderful earthiness. Hampshire Shakespeare has the confidence to make a play into a sort of anarchists' ball - where individual will, even in the face of maniacal kings, can't help but win out.
At the same time, fine performances in key roles guided Sunday's production and made it memorable. Actors Marck Morrison, Steve Angel, Sally-Anne Dunn, Colin Sweeney, John G. Williams and Sandra Blaney were particularly fine.
The first act offers a set piece in personal ruin, as the King of Sicilia melts down and orders a lifelong friend's murder. It depicts a leader's utter blindness. The whole world see the goodness of the queen, whom he suspects of adultery.
The story bumps along on the angular woe of this ruler Leontes, a weak man who is slow to see how wrong he is, then even slower to forgive himself. As Leontes, Morrison gave us a man so deluded he might evoke pity, were he not so horrendous.
Dunn was inspired as his wronged queen, Hermione, and Angel, whose good looks seemed to anesthetize the king's brain, handled himself every bit like a dashing royal as Polixenes. Kerry David Strayer, assigned the task of keeping conscience alive in a corrupt court, was cool and dependable.
By the end of the act, everything that can go wrong has. When a banished infant daughter is left out to die, we're ready for relief - which the second half of "The Winter's Tale" is designed to provide.
The plot gets a bit simpler. Satyrs roam and peasants drink. Instead of darkness in Morrison's eyes and heart, Act II brings the beauty of his abandoned daughter, Perdita, now grown and of a marrying mind. Instead of pleas to spare people's lives, the play's second half unspools lovely romance.
Blaney charmed everyone Sunday, even before she festooned her hair with flowers. Williams arrived singing and kept the tickle of song in every line and apt gesture. Sweeney and his shepherd father, played by David Mix Barrington, were superbly clownish.
When it was finally time to join two lost worlds, the union came easily. This fine cast, acting with evident pleasure, made us all want to believe.
"The Winter's Tale" continues at 7 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday outside at the Hartsbrook School at 193 Bay Road in Hadley. Tickets, available at the door, are $12, or $9 for students and seniors and $6 for 18 and under.