Shakespeare's mature romantic masterpiece A Winter's Tale pulsated with energy at the West End Theatre. Director Russell Treyz and his gifted actors breathed an irresistible life force into this magnificent production. Like Shakespeare's other late work, The Tempest, times and locales are somewhat skewed. Here we have Greeks living in Arcadia, which is now in Bohemia - which also has a coastline - but Elizabethan audiences didn't seem to notice these discrepancies, so why should we?
A delightful preshow began with a minstrel (Garald Lee Farnham) playing and singing lovely Elizabethan madrigals. Gradually other members of the cast joined him on stage, singing and dancing, and the action began.
Leontes, King of Sicilia (James Kiberd) has become irrationally jealous over his wife Hermione (Jean Tafler)'s playful attentions to his old friend Polixenes, King of Bohemia (Terry Layman), and accuses her of adultery. Convinced that Polixenes is the real father to the pregnant Hermione's child, Leontes condemns his wife to death and rejects the infant, a baby girl. Leontes's unconscionable actions have a far-reaching effect, affecting the lives of his loyal subjects, causing great suffering. His daughter Perdita survives, and is raised in Arcadia by a kindly old Shepherd (George Cavey), and years later meets and falls in love with Polixenes' son Florizel. Neither her adoptive father nor her lover know her true identity. Eventually, everyone is reunited back in Sicilia, where Perdita is recognized, and Hermione is found to be alive.
James Kiberd was an imposing presence as the jealous Leontes. Magnetic, sensual, and menacing, he galvanized the audience whenever he appeared on stage. Jean Tafler's Hermione was warmer and more spirited than this character is usually portrayed - a flesh-and-blood woman who made Leontes's jealousy seem not entirely unfounded. Terry Layman was a noble, sympathetic Polixenes, and Donald Warfield was splendid as the loyal, tortured Camillo. Kate Konigisor was marvelous as the passionate, heroic Paulina.
Juliette Dunn was a gentle, winning Perdita, and Geoffrey Malloy a handsome athletic presence as Florizel. Chuck Brown was suitably unsavory as Autolycus and sympathetic as Paulina's unfortunate husband Antigonus, who is devoured by a bear (Jeffrey Swan Jones, who looked fabulous in his bear costume, and made truly horrifying noises as he digested his meal offstage).
The production values were exceptional throughout. Bob Phillips's brightly colored set, festooned with flower garlands, created a festive, pastoral ambience that made effective use of the wide stage. Mark Simpson's romantic, subtle lighting gave the stage a shimmering texture. The percussion by John Dresher seemed inspired by Shamanic rhythms, which were ideal for the pastoral scenes, and frightening during the storm. Amanda Ford's costumes looked wonderful on everyone, and the bear costume was a tour de force.
Bruce Barton, Joey DiConcetto, Sabrina Cowen, Vanessa Hidary, Michael Lewis, John Dresher, and Richard Kent Green excelled in supporting roles, keeping the professionalism at a consistently high level.
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Copyright 1999 Julie Halpern