A journey from darkness to light in the Asolo Rep's The Winter's Tale.
By Kay Kipling
Of all playwrights, Shakespeare perhaps gives the director the broadest range of interpretative possibilities. Certainly the past 400 years or so have allowed for many exercises in artistic vision in terms of time period, setting and topicality of the overall message, while adhering to the playwright’s original verse.
The Asolo Rep’s current production of The Winter’s Tale, often considered one of the bard’s more problematic plays, takes advantage of those opportunities. Tale is a challenge, because it really feels like three plays in one. The first portion is dark and brooding, as we see the noble King Leontes’ reason so overthrown that he believes his loving wife, Hermione, and his longtime friend, Polixenes, are being unfaithful to him. So sudden and yet so entrenched is this belief that he cannot and will not listen to any evidence proving the contrary, and his court and country as well as his family are thrown into turmoil because of his blind passion.
The second portion of Tale switches gears completely to a pastoral setting, 16 years later, where shepherds and shepherdesses frolic to happy music; and the third yanks us back to the world of the first portion—only in time to see a happy ending that’s not based in reality as we know it, but born of our race’s innate longing for redemption, forgiveness and group hugs.
Director Michael Donald Edwards has chosen an era of rapid changes—the early 1950s to the late 1960s—in which to base his version of The Winter’s Tale, which means we get to see some pretty cool props and costumes (think moon landings and hippie garb). The first section of the production features cool, repressed grays with blazes of red; the second is a burst of bright psychedelic colors. The costumes (designed by David Zinn and Jacob Climer), the lighting and projections of Daniel Scully, and the scenic design of Clint Ramos are all stylishly done. And the mix of original music by composer Sarah Pickett and a familiar favorite (Good Morning, Starshine, anyone?), along with the playful choreography of Jimmy Hoskins in the second half, provides some welcome uplift.
But does the transplanting of the characters and situation to this period in our cultural history teach us anything new? For me, not especially. But it does not harm Shakespeare’s intent, either. There are strong performances by Dan Donohue as the tortured Leontes (we care about him even as he does great wrong), James Leaming and Mercedes Herrero as Antigonus and Paulina (a couple trying to do their duty by their rulers in their own ways), and Kris Danford as Hermione (although Danford could use more regality in her presence in her early scenes). And a contingent of third-year FSU/Asolo Conservatory students gets to shine in that musical comedy segment.
Heather Kelley and Kevin O’Callaghan in the Asolo Rep’s The Winter’s Tale.
Be warned: As might be expected, The Winter’s Tale makes for a longish evening (nearly three hours with intermission). But it’s involving and at times very lively, with a lot of good work to appreciate onstage.
The Winter’s Tale continues through May 16 in rotating rep; call 351-8000 or go to asolo.org for tickets.