Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

August 23, 2010

The Winter's Tale

Shakespeare & Company, Lenox, MA
through September 5, 2010
by Shera Cohen

"The Winter's Tale" is not your usual Shakespeare fare. It's not a "history" play as royalty populating the story are fiction. It's not a comedy, because there is death. "Tale" is among The Bard's quartet of Romance Plays - neither comedy or tragedy but what today might be termed tragicomedy.

The plot of misplaced jealousy and kind forgiveness, of kings and queens, of the mundane and mysticism, makes for a wonderful tale, no matter what the season. Many questions arise pertaining to morals, integrity, and betrayal. One of Shakespeare's most accessible writings, it is a shame that it is not often performed. Shakespeare & Co. has rectified that in this visually beautiful set depicting two countries with characters dressed and coiffed to fit any ancient century. Most interesting is the profound difference between Act I and II - the first, tragic and dramatic; the second, frothy and comic. After intermission, 16 years have passed and with it the characters' lives. Director Kevin Coleman has balanced the two acts as perfectly as a seesaw with strength equal on both sides.

Many from the cadre of regulars take lead roles in "Tale," including Jonathan Epstein and Johnny Lee Davenport as the two kings. They are an excellent match, yet Epstein seems a bit affected. Corinna May pours every ounce of fury into her character Paulina, Malcolm Ingram creates a loveable shepherd, Josh Aaron McCabe embodies a moral man asked to do horrible deeds, and Jason Asprey intentionally steals the show as a con man. It is Wolfe Coleman as the young shepherd, a relative newcomer to the troupe, who portrays innocence, sweetness, and stupidity with physical humor to delight his audience.

In what is otherwise a nearly perfectly executed production, one suggestion remains - to significantly cut and/or tighten up the long festival scene in Act II. While it adds flavor (literally and figuratively) to the play, the music, dance, singing, picnicking, and even more dance stretches out to enhance little to all that is so powerful and funny in "The Winter's Tale."