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A CurtainUp Review
The Winter's Tale
Though each of the three Armory productions I've seen has its theatrical strengths, The Winter's Tale is the standout. Not only does it have the theatrical coup of the Act 5 statue scene, but the ensemble's acting and Jon Bausor's set is superb.
This is not the place to detail The Winter's Tale's rambling plot and subplots. But it's worth recalling the comments of the renowned scholar G. Wilson Knight on this late romance, who held that its central theme pits youth against age. Or as he aptly puts it: "Youth is conceived as a power; as a renewer of life and antagonist to death." And though Knight also delves into the play from a Christian standpoint, citing its theme of resurrection, he ultimately hints that what is beating within The Winter's Tale is life itself, and a deeply considered portrait of human affairs and destiny.
Much credit belongs to Director David Farr, who stages this play that spans 16 years (extravagantly breaking the classical unity of time), has disturbing geography (The "seacoast of Bohemia" is pure fiction!), and what may be Shakespeare's most famous stage direction ("Exit, pursued by a bear".). Instead of opening the action with the traditional conversation between Camillo (John Mackay) and Archidamus (Joseph Arkley), Farr wisely focuses the audience's attention on the innocence of Mamillius (Sebastian Salisbury), Hermione and Leontes's first-born child. Mamilius scampers into view at the outset, searching for a toy under the dinner table, which he immediately tosses onto the richly-set table. It's a brilliant choice. Mamillius, along with the other children presented during the evening, hold the heartstrings of their parents. Besides its sentimental appeal, Mamillius's presence both establishes the theme of youth and becomes its physical embodiment. Later on, of course, one will watch Mamillius playfully whisper a "sad tale" into his mother Hermione's (Kelly Hunter) ear. With his sudden death in Act 3, Scene 2 (precipitated by his mother Hermione's imprisonment by the mad Leontes), this originally charming scene will gain a darker texture and tragic dimension.
Leontes' (Greg Hicks) unmotivated sexual jealousy draws the most attention in the early scenes, and much scholarly ink has been spilled over it. One can only speculate why Leontes grows so suspicious that his pregnant wife Hermione has committed adultery with his long-time friend, King Polixenes of Bohemia (Darrell D'Silva), and that her unborn child was Polixenes's offspring. Leontes' sudden insane jealousy remains one of the unsolved riddles in Shakespeare's canon. For even when the Oracle proclaims Hermione's chasteness and Polixenes' blamelessness, Leontes still stubbornly refuses to accept the reality. Only shocked back to sanity by Mamillius's death and Hermione's demise, does he confront his personal demons.
During the evening, you will witness both his madness and subsequent cure, playing out in poignant detail. And you don't have to see this play in a strictly religious light to enjoy its psychological and emotional depths! In fact, The Winter's Tale can function as a hymn to recharged batteries, and second chances for human beings.
The only sagging moments during this almost 3 hour performance is after the idyllic sheep-shearing scene, when a flock of characters must travel from Bohemia to Sicilia, where the reunions will take place. But this is really nit-picking among gold and silver. Directors have long attempted, and frequently failed (including Director Sam Mendes in his Winters' Tale at the Brooklyn Academy of Music), to execute convincingly this geographic transition from rustic Bohemia to the court life of Sicilia.
There's much to praise about this production as a whole. However, the best scene by far is the statue scene, where Hermione, supposed dead for 16 years, returns to vibrant life and is rejoined with Perdita (Samantha Young) and her contrite husband Leontes. It's one of shakespeare's most perfec,t goose-bump raising scenes. Even if you don't normally get teary during sentimental episodes, you will likely find yourself (as I did) with tears moistening your eyes. It's not only the fact that Hermione is brought back to life, wonderful as that is, it's the evoking of everybody's faith (including the audience who is watching the play) to spark Hermione's transformation.
The acting is sterling. Greg Hicks, playing the paranoid Leontes, possesses the requisite emotional range for his complex character. Kelly Hunter's Hermione, is the epitome of maternal kindness and marital fidelity. Noma Dumezweni, as Paulina, is suitably audacious. In the role of Perdita, Samantha Young rightly shows a mixture of shyness and hard-headed feminine realism. Tunji Kasim is well-cast as the confident Prince Florizel in love with Perdita. Brian Doherty, as the pick-pocket rogue Autolycus, fully inhabits his comic role. The 8 musicians, who are more heard than seen on their tiny platform above the thrust stage, contribute much delicate music to the goings-on.
A few final words to hopeful theatergoers: The festival ain't over till the swan dies. Tickets are hard-to-get, but are sometimes available to the industrious and lucky. (The Armory box-office staff follow a first-come, first-served policy for purchasing tickets.) Unclaimed rush tickets, originally reserved for the winners of the online "rush lottery," become available to theatergoers at the Armory's box office shortly before the show begins (rush tickets with obstructed view are approximately $28). Besides rush tickets, there are typically a number of cancellation tickets that can be bought for full-price at the box office on the day of the show.
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