Monday, September 20, 2010


Reviewed by James Karas

The second play by Shakespeare offered by the Stratford Festival this year is The Winter’s Tale at the Tom Patterson Theatre. This is only the fifth time that Stratford has staged the play since 1953, which means that they are not touching it even once a decade. Whenever they did produce the play, they provided major star power for it. The first staging of The Winter’s Tale at Stratford was in 1958 and it had Christopher Plummer as Leontes and Jason Robards, Jr. as Polixenes.

The 1978 and 1986 productions had Brian Bedford and Colm Feore respectively as Leontes. That is star power indeed but no acting prowess can save the play completely. It is not Shakespeare at his best.

It starts well enough and the current production raises one’s hopes of seeing a superb reading of the play.

Leontes, King of Sicilia (Ben Carlson), is visited by his great friend Polixenes, King of Bohemia (Dan Chameroy). They love each other like devoted brothers until Leontes is seized by the irrational conviction that his wife is committing adultery with Polixenes. He goes into a rage and orders his loyal courtier Camillo (Sean Arbuckle) to murder Polixenes.

In the meantime, he throws his wife Hermione (Yanna McIntosh) in prison and has the child that she just gave birth to exposed in the wilderness so that she will die. She does not because her life is saved by some shepherds.

So far so good. Carlson gives a powerful performance as Leontes. Seana McKenna has the relatively small role of Paulina, the wife of one of Leontes’s courtiers. She does have a crucial scene in the play in which she shows her massive talents and dominates the scene. Randy Hughson plays her husband Antigonus in another fine performance. He also has the role of Time, the creaky device Shakespeare used to tell us that we are moving sixteen years ahead. He is sitting on a crane and is twirled clockwise making the best of a small part. It looks like we have a Winter’s Tale to remember.

Unfortunately, the rest of the play falls to the ground with a thud.

We are in Bohemia and we meet the Old Shepherd (Brian Tree) and the Clown (Mike Shara) again. They are somewhat amusing and very garrulous but they are the ones who saved Leontes’s daughter Perdita (Cara Roberts) when she was left to perish in the wilderness many years ago.

It is pretty much down hill from here on. Director Marti Maraden and designer John Pennoyer do just about everything to entertain us through the less than thrilling part of the play. They dress the locals in colourful costumes for the sheep-shearing festival and they try to generate some rustic excitement and bohemian fun.

The crooked rogue Autolycus (Tom Rooney) cheats the peasants and is a colourful local. One cannot fault Rooney for the handling of the role (in fact he does a very good job) but I just do not find the character very amusing.

Among the reveling peasants, we meet Polixenes’s son Florizel (Ian Lake) – oops, I gave the plot away – and he is in love with this pretty girl Perdita who is apparently the daughter of a shepherd. Polixenes will have none of this and the two lovers are forced to go to Sicilia.

Now it is time to resolve some of the problems created by Leontes and Polixenes. The Florizel-Perdita part of the plot gets solved easily. As soon as it is discovered that Perdita is of royal blood, no time is wasted in finding her match to Florizel as made in heaven.

It gets a bit trickier to solve the Hermione issue. There is a life-size, life-like statue of Hermione erected in her memory and it looks the way she would have looked if alive now. You can guess the rest if you have never seen the play and you know all too well what happens if you have seen the play.

This is a solid, well-thought out and executed production. The real problem is the last part of the play that leaves me cringing and I have yet to see a production that can surpass that inadequacy.


The Winter’s Tale by William Shakespeare opened on June 9 and will run until September 25, 2010 at the Tom Patterson Theatre, Stratford, Ontario. 1-800-567-1600

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