BWW Review: A WINTER'S TALE at Naked Shakes
In the complete anthology of William Shakespeare, there are many undisputed masterworks of comedy and tragedy that have endured through the centuries. But...they can't all be radio hits. A Winter's Tale, the latest Shakespearian exploration from UCSB's Naked Shakes and director Irwin Appel, has moments of greatness, but an equal number of confounding twists and turns as this tale of two cities unfolds into a redemption arc for an emotionally abusive king, resolution through unfathomable miracles, and a dramatic Maury-style 'you are the father!' reveal.
In Sicilia, Polixenes (Mario Carlo Yanes), the visiting monarch from Bohemia, makes merry in the court of his boyhood friend, King Leontes (Cooper Van Bruhns). When Polixenes makes to set sail for home, he's besought by Leontes to stay awhile. Polixenes demures, but Leontes entreats his pregnant wife, Hermione (Kat Cleave), to convince him. At her behest, Polixines agrees to keep the party going in Sicilia.
Here's where it gets weird: As soon as Polixines decides to stay, Leontes devolves from good-natured ruler to abusive, paranoid tyrant. He first accuses Hermione and Polixenes of an affair, then convinces himself that the child she's carrying is a product of their union. Von Bruhn is a strong actor, but Leontes pulls into 4th gear from a stop, and not everyone on stage can keep up. For many of the actors, this is a first stop on the collegiate road to a theater degree or BFA, and a lot of them get lost in the wake of Leontes's aggressive madness, played at a full eleven by an actor who knows his way around some Shakespeare. Leontes bulldozes through his court making irrational proclamations, putting the queen on trial, and ignoring sacred prophecies from the oracle. His young son dies of melancholy, and when his daughter, Perdita, is born, he appoints an advisor to have the infant killed. Upon learning her children are gone, Hermione faints and is pronounced dead. When Leontes runs out of manic energy, his family is dead and his subjects are understandably disturbed. He and his kingdom settle into a long period of mourning.
Now to Bohemia! Antigonus (Cyrus Roberts), charged with Perdita's murder, leaves the baby on a remote beach in Bohemia, but this information dies with him almost immediately when he's eaten by a bear, and his ship and crew are lost at sea. A shepherd and his son (Aaron Arpon and Alexandra Singleton) find baby Perdita (and the gold stashed in her bassinette) and bring it all home. Over the next sixteen years Perdita (Betty Galindo) grows into a young woman who catches the eye of King Polixenes' son, Florizel (Vishay Singh). There's a flower festival, disguises aplenty, marriage plots, and run-away royals in this more fancy-free portion of the play. It's lighthearted (though convoluted), and Singleton, Arpon, and Harry Davis (Autolycus) bring the hilarity (and some fun stunts).
Polixines discovers that his son has been cavorting with a commoner and forbids the union, so Florizel and Perdita steal away to Sicilia with the Bohemians in pursuit. They collect in the hall of Leontes where truths are revealed and wrongs are righted. The only debt yet unsettled is the dead queen Hermione. Luckily, one of the king's advisors has had a sculpture of Hermione commissioned in secret, a statue so lifelike it seems to the awestruck characters to almost breath. The point when the statue animates into the resurrected queen is the point when I lose track of what this play is actually about, and start focusing on the lighting design, which turns white silks into delicate representations of everything from expression of mood to kingdom walls.
Overall, A Winter's Tale has visual richness, but the text is all over the place, and additional elements like modern pop music and choreographed slow-motion stage crosses pile superflua onto an existing wealth of "eclectic" narrative components. The contrast between the two kingdoms is clear--Sicilia is appropriately severe while Bohemia is a paradise of flower power. But with so much going on, it's difficult to keep track of what's been settled and what's left floating without tether when this winter's tale has concluded.