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BWW Review: THE WINTER'S TALE - Sublime Shakespearean Beauty On A Summer's Evening

There is something purely magical about summer Shakespeare. An evening under the stars watching an excellent performance of a play written 400 years ago makes the heart sing with joy. Something For Nothing Theater's production of THE WINTER'S TALE currently playing at Ramsey Park is just such an enchanting play.
THE WINTER'S TALE was one of Shakespeare's later plays, written around 1611, only five years before his death. The plot is one that has been difficult for scholars to classify because the first half is a deep physiological tragedy, while the final part is comedic. The main story is likely based on Robert Greene's romance PANDOSTO, published in 1588. The tale begins in Sicilia where Leontes, King of Sicilia (Kevin Moxley) and Polixenes, the King of Bohemia (Daniel Rigney), childhood friends, are discussing Polixenes return to his own kingdom, he refuses to be swayed from his imminent departure. It's only when Leontes' wife, Queen Hermione (Courtney Bailey Parker) urges the visiting friend to stay, that he relents. The interplay between the queen and their guest of nine months sparks a fierce jealousy in Leontes and he orders a member of his court, Camillo (Steve Cook) to poison his friend, declares his pregnant wife unfaithful and the child she carries a bastard. Camillo is stunned by this turn of events and instead of murdering Polixenes, he warns him and flees Sicilia with him. The king is furious at the betrayal and dispatches two lords to the Oracle at Delphi to discover the truth of the illicit relationship. Hermione is imprisioned and gives birth to a daughter. Her friend Paulina takes the newborn to the king hoping that the sight of his baby will make the king accept his own child. Leontes rejects the girl and orders Paulina's husband, Antigonus (Bob Jones) to abandon the child in the wilderness, insuring her death. When the messengers from the Oracle return to Sicilia, state that the accused are all innocent and the king will have no heirs until the lost princess is found, Leontes refuses to accept the truth. As this happens, news arrives that the the king and queen's son has died and Hermione falls into a swoon. Paulina returns to report that the queen is dead. Finally realizing that he was wrong, Leontes vows to spend his life atoning for his error. Antigonus takes the newborn princess and leaves her with gold and identifying papers on the stormy coast of Bohemia. Here's where Shakespeare's epic stage direction 'exit pursued by bear' comes in. Antigonus suffers death by bear mauling when a passing Shepherd (Robert Dieke) and the Shepherd's Son (Bob Jones) find the baby. Time (Courtney Bailey Parker) personified, enters to announce that sixteen years have passed. Camillo is eager to return to his home in Sicilia but Polixenes suggests that they follow his son, Prince Florizel (Ryan Wilson), around to see what the young man is up to. Enter Autolycus (Tony Salinas), a peddler and thief who steals from nearly everyone and sells his wares at a party hosted by the Shepherd. The king and courtier disguise themselves and find that the prince has pledged himself to the Shepherd's daughter Perdita (Victoria Barton Rosenthal). The young couple, forbidden by his father to marry, flee to Sicilia with Carmillo and Autolycus' help. Perdita's true identity is revealed and in a magical moment the family is reunited and love conquers all in a truly unique conclusion to the play.
THE WINTER'S TALE is often referred to as a 'problem play', not popular in recent years likely because it's neither fish nor fowl. Containing elements of deep tragedy, magic and excellent comedy, it's a play that has been historically difficult to pin down. Originally included with Shakespeare's comedies, these days it's more often put into a category of romance along with PERICLES, CYMBELINE, and THE TEMPEST. It's not often that one has the opportunity to see it staged and Something For Nothing's production was a rare treat. Nestled in Ramsey Park's intimate outdoor stage amid the trees and birdsong, the company's signature minimal staging made the actors shine even brighter. From the opening moments of the show, Moxley, Parker and Rigney set the tone with excellent pacing, crisp, clear dialogue and heartfelt emotion that carried through to the final scene. Every cast member was on their best game as they played multiple roles, sliding smoothly from one to another with professional ease. Standouts from a distinguished cast include Moxley, Parker and Rigney in the royal roles. They were commanding, yet intimate, giving excellent performances with perfect emotional pitch. Victoria Rosenthal and Ryan Wilson were charming as the young couple, making the final scene all the sweeter because of their love for one another. Robert Dieke as the Shephard is hilarious and his age progression from middle aged to old man is impressive. Tony Salinas as Autolycus is the epitome of a Shakesprean clown, singing and dancing his heart out and the audience adored him. But it's Bob Jones as both Antigonus and the Shepherd's Son who steals the show. Jones has the opportunity with his roles to give both a tragic and comedic performance and he is fantastic at both. Director Deb Streusand deserves high praise for her excellent staging and setting a clear vision for the show that is beautiful in its simplicity. The lighting design by Zac Crofford is stellar given the space and its limitations. Lindsay McKinna's costume design is polished and functional allowing actors to switch between multiple characters with ease. The extreme focus of the entire cast is to be commended. Theatre presented outdoors is challenging at best with passing cars, planes overhead and bugs committing suicide on stage lights competing for audience attention. But not once did the actors even blink at a clear distraction, keeping our focus on the stage.
The only flaw in an otherwise delightful evening was the trio of young adults who moved next to me during intermission. Their constant talking during the second half of the play was extremely distracting to nearby audience members. Apparently there are people who believe that a 'free' show indicates that there is a lower standard of behavior for audience members. There were a number of small children and toddlers in the crowd that behaved more appropriately than these adults. However it would have taken a herd of rude people to dim my appreciation of the production.
I give my highest recommendation to THE WINTER'S TALE, it is enchanting, funny and extremely entertaining. Take a blanket, the beverage of your choice, a picnic dinner or snacks and some mosquito spray and have a lovely evening watching Shakespeare in Ramsey Park, I promise you magic under the stars.

Photos by: Michael O'Reilly

THE WINTER'S TALE by William Shakespeare
Ramsey Park, 4301 Rosedale Avenue, Austin
June 9 - 25, Thursday - Saturday, 8:00 PM

Running Time: Approx 2.5 hours with one intermission

Tickets: Free to the public, donations welcome.

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From This Author Lynn Beaver