The Winter’s Tale is running at McCarter Theatre until April 21st. Director Rebecca Taichman has trimmed the piece to eliminate redundant dialog and a more extensive cast. Her interpretation is refreshing.
Typical to Shakespearean plays, there is tragedy and comic relief. Jealousy rears its ugly head as two kings, who were the best of friends since childhood, have become enemies. King Leontes of Sicilia (Mark Harelik) suspects his pregnant wife Hermione (Hannah Yelland) of infidelity, and his friend Polixenes, King of Bohemia (Sean Arbuckle) of being the father. Read the plot here.
We begin in Sicilia, get transported to the Bohemian countryside, and are brought back to the Sicilian court in this romantic comedy of sorts. However, the romance was not between Hermione and Polixenes.
The execution of this was brilliant. The play opened in Sicilia, with all wearing dark clothing. The feelings of betrayal, jealousy, revenge, and death were dark and intense, and the set matched the mood. Harelik skillfully morphed from a loving husband and friend to a manic, green-eyed monster within a minute. Yelland and Arbuckle also had strong performances as the unsuspecting victims, and were supported wonderfully by the cast, especially Camillo, a Sicilian Lord played by Brent Carver.
The transition from the Sicilian palace to the Bohemian countryside went from black and white to surreal colors. The set was vivid with large, colorful butterflies, a backdrop of a blue sky and green rolling hills, bold lighting, and cut outs of sheep, along with a stuffed one placed around the stage. The shepherds were all wearing rich colors, and the mood shifted from dark to light, echoing the love that Florizel (Todd Bartels) had for Perdita (Heather Wood). Bartels and Wood were easy to connect with, as they convinced you to root for their characters as a couple.
The old English dialog was a bit quick in the beginning, so I highly recommend reading the plot before you attend. The characters wore 21st century clothing, which made it more relatable, yet the language retained the essence of Shakespeare. I liked that the actors pulled double duty with each having a role in Sicilia and Bohemia. The three musicians who initially performed backstage, came out to play amongst the actors, so they had dual roles as well.
Anyone who has seen Taichman’s previous works (Sleeping Beauty Wakes and Twelfth Night) knows her genius, and attention to detail. I saw this with three friends, who all agreed that this was a wonderful production with extraordinary performances, and the cast received a standing ovation.
In my affected British accent: “I implore you to see Rebecca Taichman’s brilliant production of The Winter’s Tale at the McCarter Theatre. You shan’t regret it”, especially if you’re a fan of the Bard!