â€œWinterâ€ is Coming at Cincinnati Shakespeare!
Posted On March 2, 2019
ReviewÂ by Willie Caldwell of A Winterâ€™s Tale: Cincinnati Shakespeare Company
Continuing its 25thÂ season, Cincinnati ShakespeareÂ takes on A Winterâ€™s TaleÂ full force!
Often described as one of Shakespeareâ€™s problem plays, A Winterâ€™s TaleÂ feels likeÂ two plays in one.Â Part of the first folio, it is easy to see elements of Shakespeareâ€™s later more predominant works woven throughout A Winterâ€™s Tale.Â Part tragedy, part comedy, and part romance play, A Winterâ€™s Tale is a rollercoasterÂ of emotions, characters, and storylines.
Act I unfolds as a dark, psychological dramaÂ aboutÂ jealousy,Â theÂ abuse of power,Â andÂ toxic masculinity. At the onset, we learn that King Leontes suspects his wifeÂ HermineÂ of having an affair with his longtime friend KingÂ Polixenes.Â After a series of baseless accusations, King LeontesÂ orders Camillo, a Sicilian Lord, to poisonÂ PolixenesÂ who instead flees to his home country of Bohemia. Enraged atÂ Polixenesâ€™ escape,Â LeontesÂ resorts to publicly accuse his wife of having an extramarital affair and throws her in the dungeons. To make matters worse,Â Hemione gives birth to aÂ child that is nowÂ deemedÂ illegitimate.Â
Searching for answers, King Leontes seeks out the Oracle to ascertain the truth aboutÂ Hermione and her newborn daughter.The Oracle informs the King thatÂ Hermione andÂ PolixenesÂ are innocent and the newborn infant is indeed his child. Refusing to believe the Oracle, Leontes ignores the truth, leading to direÂ consequences. As the events of Act I draw to a close, we learn that Leontesâ€™ only son and heir,Â Mamillius, has died of a wasting sickness andÂ HermioneÂ has died of a broken heart leaving Leontes bitter, broken, and alone.Â
If it all sounds a bit convoluted, that is because it is,Â but Act I is where Cincy ShakesÂ productionÂ truly shines. BrentÂ VimtrupÂ as Leontes delivers a powerful performanceÂ as the tyrant king who is driven mad by jealousy.Â VimtrupÂ is beautifully balancedÂ by KellyÂ MengelkochÂ as the broken and defeated Hermione.Â The public accusation scenes are particularly gut-wrenching and hard to watch while simultaneously being impossible to turn away from.Â LeslieÂ BrottÂ absolutely commands the stage as the noblewoman Paulina who sets the events in motion that lead to the second act. Act I is visceral, dark, and eerily similar to the real-lifeÂ themesÂ playing out in our current political landscapeÂ in the #MeTooÂ era.
In contrast, Act II feels like a completely different play.Â Sixteen years have passed and the baby is now a full-grown woman by the name of Perdita.Â We are introduced to the warm and colorful kingdom of Bohemia, which, true to its name, includes all the singing, dancing, and daisy chains one could hope for.Â Perdita is in love withÂ FlorizelÂ who happens to beÂ Polixenesâ€™ only son and heir.Â Act II focuses on the budding relationship between the two lovers and throws in a myriad of subplots and additional charactersÂ ultimately leading to the discovery that Perdita is theÂ long-lostÂ daughter of King Leontes who has been in mourning for the past 16 years.Â
Where Act I represents winter, Act II gives the illusion of winter melting into spring. Billy Chace stands out in the role of Autolycus, a bumbling roguish peddler and pickpocket. Our lovers, played by Courtney Lucien andÂ CrystianÂ Wiltshire, swoon deeply for one another with all the innocence of young requited love.Â The ensemble is rounded out by a delightful trio of minstrels playing a guitar, mandolin, and fiddle live on stage. While the pacing of the second act is quicker, there is quite a bit of ground to cover and a number of loose ends to tie up which at times can be a bit confusing for the audience. This has more to do with Shakespeareâ€™sÂ earlyÂ writing than Cincy Shakesâ€™ adaptation.Â Despite being one of the Bardâ€™s â€œproblem plays,â€ The production ends on a high note reminding theater goers that after winter, spring must come.
Cincy Shakes is clearly settling into their new home and making beautiful use of the recently constructed Otto M.Â BudigÂ Theatre.Â The production is directed by Cincinnati native, Christopher Luscombe, who works as an associate artist for the prestigious Royal Shakespeare Company. Â Overall, the productionÂ designÂ is sleekÂ and simple. Towering columns give way toÂ connecting arches which feel hardÂ as stoneÂ in Act I but are made to feel like trees swaying gently in the breezeÂ duringÂ Act II. Shannon Mooreâ€™s scenic design does a terrific job of balancing Act I and Act II with the help of colorful textures, gobos, and lighting design by S. Watson.Â
A Winterâ€™s Tale runs March 1-23. Tickets can be purchased online by visiting www.cincyshakes.com or by calling the box office at 513-381-2273.