Why all the fuss about the “Exit, pursued by a bear” stage direction in The Winter’s Tale? It’s all there in the text -- the Mariner (Matt Mercer) plainly says “this place is famous for the creatures/Of prey that keep upon't.” So when the bear showed up chasing Antigonus (John Montague) there was no mystery, only sorrow that a compassionate character was a goner. The line had been clearly heard -- and that was what was part of what was best in ShakespearNYC’s production of Shakespeare’s rather odd play -- nothing was obscured, nothing challenged understanding, and everything (plot, theme, character) was clear.
But this is an odd play, and while authorial intent can be discussed endlessly, there was no question that in director Beverly Bullock’s production, these characters did what they had to do. If, on the page, Leontes (Geoffrey Dawe)’s jealousy concerning the friendship between his loving wife Hermoine (Patricia McNamara) and Polixenes (Jeff Riebe), a neighboring king, comes from a murky back-story, Dawe made it plain that this was who Leontes was, and he would not have been himself, or King of Sicillia, if he had acted any other way -- and Dawe was engaging and believable, even as his actions were deplorable. He was actually sympathetic as he raged without cause at his wife. And McNamara was queenly and dignified as she attempted to understand the inexplicable, ably abetted by Peter Herrick’s Camillo. It was abundantly clear that Camillo was a character to be reckoned with, who radiated compassion, and whose conscience was king. Herrick was so good that he was able to overcome a costume that had “what is that?” figuratively written all over it.
The cast performed up to ShakespearNYC’s high standards (clarity and sense rolled over the footlights), and once again it was the little things that Bullock added that made the play communicate. A character can be called a king, but when he holds out his wine cup with a sense of noblesse oblige and, in fact, a servant is there filling the cup (or removing it) before the action is even completed -- now that’s a king. That someone like Paulina (Kirsten Walsh) could be such a vibrant force without tilting the play out of balance brings appreciation and pleasure; the Old Shepherrd (Nicholas Stannard) was simultaneously comic and sympathetic; Riebe and Herrick in comic disguises had some funny side business with a couple of shepherdesses (Katherine Kelly Lidz and Sri Gordon) -- yet Riebe could be furious and believable when he disinherits his son Florizel (Jon Dean) for disobeying him; that Perdita, the lost-then-found child (Carrie-Ann Brown) managed to be sweet and modest without being cloying -- it all added up to a little more than Shakespeare’s foundation might have predicted.
It all took place on a somewhat generic classical setting (it was being performed in repertory with A Midsummer Night’s Dream), and, except for a glaring mistake or two, was well-costumed (production designed by Bullock). Bullock even managed to have the requisite three united/reunited couples on stage at the end. While it’s debatable whether The Winter’s Tale really falls into the “comedy” category of the Shakespearean canon, ShakespeareNYC sure seems to polish up even the brass to a high shine.
Also with Kaleb Szabo, Jonathan J. Lidz, Benjamin Rishworth, Tyler Ashby Jones, Gretchen Howe, Lisa Came, David Blatt, and Hannah Wolfe, who made the character of Time, burdened with explaining the 16-year gap between acts III and IV, credible.
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Copyright 2005 David Mackler