July 25, 2010 matinee performance reviewed by Frances Benn Hall.
This reviewer is still reeling with delight and praise for Shakespeare and Co.’s production of The Winter’s Tale. Joyfully, the play continues through September 5, and I urge people of all ages, including children, to revel in this stream-lined production, running only three hours including one intermission.
The miracle that sets right in this production, the one problem that has for me plagued previously seen productions over the years, is making moving and believable the too-sudden jealousy of Leontes. Shakespeare moves swiftly into his plot, giving time for little motivation. The Queen (Elizabeth Aspenlieder) is so happily innocent in her playfulness and bountiful pregnancy.
Epstein and his insightful director, Kevin G. Coleman have solved this magnificently by inserting the presence of the child, son Maxmillius (played alternately by Parker Bell Devaney of Colin Young) into a strong bonding presence in Leontes’ world. If all else is false, surely, even fleeting doubts concerning this one link of love show his heart, his feeling for family. So he will banish all, but not the son. (Though fate will punish him even here: “A sad tale is best for Winter.”)
Shakespeare’s four final plays, the romances, all bear a strong shattered family, long lost but in the end reunited, a daughter–father relationship is always present, and the grace of the return of the long lost daughter may include a supposedly dead mother. (T. S. Eliot’s beautiful poem Marina celebrates such a moment in Pericles )
Just as Epstein, in both his unreasonable anger and repentance is moving and totally convincing, Elizabeth Aspenlieder, so charmingly radiant and ponderous in her pregnancy and innocence is so moving in the first act, suffering her indignities in dignity until they undo her literally, is in the play’s second half so magnificent in her immobility one cannot see her breathe, but one can and does weep.
If you want a plot outline, go early, the program includes one. Otherwise, if you do not know the play, understand only that the first act is tragedy in Sicily and the second mainly comedy in Bohemia – until it spills back into Sicily for a happy, weepy ending. It is a lovely play when played with the grace and joy of this production.
The star-studded cast is mainly of Shakespeare and Co. actors long with the company, and leads and second leads all played by Equity members, supported by fine actors, usually playing several roles and donning many costumes. Outstanding character interpretations include those of Jason Asprey as Autolycus, whose comic abilities, gestures, and gusto enliven Bohermia; Malcolm Ingram, comic old Shepherd or Gailor, stellar work; Johnny Lee Davenport, especially in king in his own land; Corinna May as the ever-faithful Paulina who never deserts and can work the occasional miracle. And Wolfe Coleman, Ryan Winkles, Justin Aaron McCabe and Kelly Galvin are outstanding in supporting roles
I always approach this play with worry, having never quite found it to work. This production does. So beautifully that all I can really say is, Go, it should delight.