PRINCETON, NJ – William Shakespeare’s “The Winter’s Tale” is a testament to the possibilities of change and forgiveness.
We first see Leontes, in a rugged performance by Mark Harrelik, becoming obsessed with thoughts that his wife, Hermione, is unfaithful. Although she is pregnant with his child, he banishes her from the kingdom. The child, set adrift, is found by some forest folk and brought up along the coast of Bohemia. With such stark contrasts, the play is at times funny, at other times tragic. But, since this is theatre, time is collapsed and imprisonment isn’t really seen (or seen as real.) Love does indeed conquer all, when the brothers Polixenes, King of Bohemia, and Leontes, King of Sicilia, are reunited. Hermione, turned to a statue, returns to life and to her husband.
Director Rebecca Taichman brings flair and imagination to the story, set in a magical place and time. The nine-member cast plays both the Sicilian and Bohemian roles. David Zinn’s costumes seems to cover a range of periods, some flamboyant and child-like, others almost Grecian in design.
Hannah Yelland as Hemione, Queen of Sicilia, has the beauty and stillness to make us wish that Leontes would be less blinded by jealousy. Nancy Robinette, well known to Washington, D.C. audiences at The Shakespeare Theatre, brings great skill to Paulina, an ally of Hermione, as well as a drunken shepherdess. Her passionate plea to save the Queen of Sicilia leaves Leontes unmoved. Many in the cast play duel roles. Not the least of these is Harelik, who later appears as a rogue and a pickpocket.
Heather Wood is first seen as the young prince, Mamillius and later as Perdita,the long lost daughter of King Leontes. Sean Arbuckle is King of Bohemia while Brent Carver is Camillo, counselor to both Leontes and Polixenes. Ted van Griethuysen captures the rough and tumble life of an old shepherd. Tom Story plays both a clown and the Sicilian Lord Cleomene. Todd Bartels is Florizel, Prince of Bohemia, who loves Perdita. Each cast member, in fact, has such presence that you instantly believe whatever part he or she plays. Set design by Christine Jones is mostly a bare stage, enhanced by Christopher Kerlind’s lighting. Then the background music by Nico Muhly lends its own aura.
“The Winter’s Tale” continued at the McCarter’s Matthews Theatre through April 21. For tickets, call 609-258-2787 or visit mccarter.org. After its run, the production moves to the Shakespeare Theatre Company in Washington, D.C.
Coming up next at McCarter is the enduring Stephen Sondheim musical “Into the Woods.”