Tale Be Told
“You speak in a language I understand not,” weeps the prison-attired Queen Hermione (played by Chicago Shakespeare veteran Laura Rocklyn) to an audience at the Gottwald Playhouse at Richmond CenterStage during the adaptation of William Shakespeare’s “The Winter’s Tale,” the most recent offering from Henley Street Theatre in collaboration with Richmond Shakespeare. Although a promising undertaking for two theaters to collaborate (and it is commendable that these two houses do), the final product can sometimes be unfortunately aesthetically unpolished. Hermione’s quote rightly reflects this production’s artistic and technical language that neither speaks to the deep psychological drama and fairy tale character that the source material is ripe to offer.
The 3-hour 1920s inspired revival is a wintry adaptation of what academia categorizes as one of William Shakespeare’s “problem plays” – problematic because the contradictory themes of tragedy and comedy leave the source material somewhat impenetrable to modern audiences. The original source material weaves the story of a psychotic king (played by Juilliard’s Adrian Rieder) and the paranoid experience that erratically compels him to imprison his queen and abandon his newborn child to the fairy tale wilderness. Through his own admission, director James Ricks tells us, “The Winter’s Tale…poses a worthy challenge to any director, namely in reconciling the tragic, comic, and romantic elements without sacrificing one for the others.”
While laudable that Ricks is aware of this challenge, his youthful artistic execution is never quite apt to successfully reconcile the three disparate elements in this Roaring Twenties mixed with Flower Power era offering. The production sacrifices the critical storytelling that is necessary to remove this piece from its controversial source material. Instead opting to focus solely on the puppetry of the show (with the companies raising $1,500 to construct a puppet bear in Act 3, it is designed remarkably by local puppeteer Terry Snyder), this final Shakespearean product leaves us with no further understanding of the human experience.
This adaptation is at its best when it is comedic (Freddy Kaufman as the judiciously witty Antigonus and James Rees as the mischievously musical peddler Autoclycus are humorously winsome) in Act 4 and 5. But again the revival is woefully soporific when it is at its most tragic, although Debra Clinton’s passionate portrayal as Paulina is most in touch with the production’s 1920s characterization whose formidable voice of reason sustains all the faltering hints of drama.
At the same time, Ricks is right to place the choreography in the adroit hands of Penny Ayn Maas, whose charming – perhaps less costly than the highly anticipated bear puppetry – pastoral dance in Act 4 is the crème of this production’s artistic creativity. And technically, while Dennis Williams II’s white linen-draped set brings the audience nowhere to a fairy tale land that speaks nothing to the complexity that is the incantation of this show, his scarce use of avant-garde silhouettes throughout adds an intriguing element to a barren set.
Without any return to insightful storytelling and without provoking the imagination, this is not the production to be eagerly shared by all this holiday season. “The Winter’s Tale” leaves us with a sense that no tale has been told in a language that is too marred by its focus on expensive puppetry.
“The Winter’s Tale” runs through December 31, 2010 at the Gottwald Playhouse at Richmond CenterStage. For more information or to purchase tickets, visit http://www.henleystreettheatre.org/Home.html. Photo credit: Eric Dobbs
Matthew Miller is the former arts editor and chief theater critic for GAYRVA.com. A Chicago native, he holds a B.A. from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He currently resides in Richmond, VA and is a member of the Richmond Theatre Critics Circle. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Matthew Miller on Twitter twitter.com/matthewkmiller
“It’s so contemporary feeling, even though it has a medieval setting. This is very much a modern dysfunctional family.”January 23, 2015
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