New York City Theater
"The Winter’s Tale"
Shakespeare in the Park, Manhattan
While “The Winter’s Tale” is not Shakespeare’s best effort, it can provide a fine evening’s entertainment, given the right director, cast, staging, and general ambience. All of the above is provided in abundance in the current Central Park production.
As to the play itself, this work written late in the playwright’s career is a mish-mash of his earlier classics….Shades of “Othello,” “Hamlet,” “A Comedy of Errors” and other Shakespearean comedies and tragedies abound within this one play. But it all adds up to less than the sum of its parts.
Yet director Michael Greif, with Mark Wendland’s set design, creates a magic world. Anything can happen in this world of glass walls, twinkling lights and the warm night air--with the Park’s historic Belvedere Castle looming in the background.
Greif moves his large cast adroitly over the vast thrust stage—sometimes in royal processions, sometimes in intimate scenes. In this complex tale king Leontes, believing his wife unfaithful, is wracked with jealousy. He condemns her and their infant daughter to death. But both survive, due to kindly servants and courtiers. The baby, cast upon a foreign shore, is raised by a kindly shepherd. Ultimately everyone reconciles. Even Leontes’ queen, supposedly dead for sixteen years, turns from a statue into a living, breathing woman—in time to forgive her husband. And, as they say in fairy tales, all live happily ever after.
This “Winter’s Tale” plays at the Delacorte Theatre in tandem with “The Merchant of Venice.” In viewing both plays, it is delightful to watch cast members take on different roles—thus challenging their skills.
In “Winter’s Tale” it is the women players who come off best. Linda Emond gives a vibrant performance as the long-suffering Queen Hermione, and Marianne Jean-Baptiste is a remarkable Paulina, the Queen’s gentlewoman. For starters, her beautiful, moving words, though spoken quietly, reach to the farthest regions of the theater. She is a riveting presence. The male leads—tending toward one-level shouting matches—are less satisfying. But other smaller male roles sparkle, specifically Brian Jennings as a courtier and Max Wright as the kindly shepherd. Best of all, however, are not the individual performances, but the ensemble work of the large cast under Greif’s skilled direction.
July 10, 2010