Tuesday, July 27, 2010

The Power of Jealousy: The Winter’s Tale

Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale is a play deeply rooted in jealousy and the pain that follows the foolish creatures that act upon their jealous tendencies. Tonight we had the good fortune to see a production of the play, produced by the Public Theater, at the Delacourte theater. The outdoor theater, and beautiful evening set the stage (no pun intended) for an amazing, theatrical night.

We entered the theater, which is a heavily steeped stadium facing NYC’s Central Park and Belmont Castle. The recent addition of theater seats, as apposed to benches, was a pleasant surprise. We brought our own veggie sandwiches (see veggie me post), feta and cucumber salad, and bourbon iced tea for the 3-hour show.

Immediately we noticed the set, which is a massive round stage with no backdrops, but a transparent stained glass semi circle, which made up for half the stage and was hoisted into a vertical position throughout most of the play. The glass “wall” was creatively used to portray a various outdoor and backstage scenes and included a standard sized door in its frame. The stage also included several trap doors, which are lined with fake grass and house sheep puppets which pop up in the second half of the play.
As with many Shakespeare plays, this tale of jealousy has extreme repercussions include the death of the accused woman and her son, the murder of a close friend by a bear, and the return of a daughter, banished at birth from a royal castle. Oh the drama!

The play starts off as somewhat of a Greek tragedy, similar to Othello, with the king of Sicily becoming extremely jealous of his best friend, the king of Bohemia, and mistakenly believing that the man is having an affair with his wife. The Queen is forced into exile and has a child during in her jail cell. The newborn is banished, and escorted off the property by the king’s dear friend and confidant. Shortly after, the Queen and her only son die from the pain and agony of the infidelity accusations.

The confidant is fearful for the baby’s life and finds a safe spot for the basement on the shore of a shepherd’s property. The confidant is then killed by a bear, which was portrayed in a particularly odd way during the performance with a shadow puppet behind a white sail and odd gurgling noises. The shepherd comes across the baby, who has papers and a pouch of gold in her bassinet, while collecting his sheep and decides to bring her home. He and his son, who is the only comic relief in the first half of the production amble off the stage to close out the first act.

The second act was a much more fun and fruitful play, and showcased the work of a stronger director capable of creating a clearer production, something that seemed to slip away from him in the first half. The act is full of shepherds frolicking in the meadows and playfully seducing the ladies of the meadow (and perhaps even sheep), references to dildoes, and a trio of comedic characters (two giggling girls and a slick and entertaining thief, Autolycus). We also finally come across the troupe of characters disguising themselves as people whom they are not, in true Shakespeare fashion.

The end of the play wraps up with the king of Bohemia’s son falling in love with the king of Sicily’s daughter and unknowingly returning her home to her father. Once the reunion is discovered (I’m still not clear on how), there is a celebration, wedding and huge rewards for the sheperd and his son who took care of the princess for 18 years. Then, something strange happens – the dead Queen, who was recently resurrected in statue form, comes back to life. I’m not used to comparing Shakespeare plays to Sci-fi but this shit was weird. The conclusion of the show also made me wonder if Shakespeare was alive today, would he be writing Sci-fi or producing reality TV?

Overall the production was entertaining and made for a wonderful NYC evening. The play, which seems terribly difficult to direct and act, was well done aside from a few minor slip ups. Who's joining me in line for next year's productions?

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