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Posts Tagged ‘william shakespeare’

Macbeth: Come Like Shadows
by William Shakespeare, etc.
Directed by Sean Patrick Higgins and Kelly Hummert
Rebel and Misfits Productions
October 25, 2018

Sean Patrick HIggins, Kelly Hummert
Photo by Eric Woolsey
Rebel and Misfits Productions

So, you park your car at a sports bar in Soulard, get on a bus, and are transported to Scotland–or an alternate universe Scotland that’s the invention of the devisers in a truly creative immersive theatre production of Macbeth that’s happening right now in St. Louis. Macbeth: Come Like Shadows is an inventive, confrontational, well-thought-out and strongly cast production that puts you into the middle of the story.

Macbeth: Come Like Shadows is immersive, but it’s also a play. Essentially, it’s a straightforward production of Macbeth in an unusual setting, with a few additions to the script and an additional devised pre-show that adds further context to the production. The setting is more or less modern, in an alternate reality in which Scotland has been taken over by an extreme right-wing dictator and freedom of expression has been severely limited. Most of the context, though, comes from the pre-show, in which audience members wander through the performance space in a semi-restored former church building and overhear conversations among the various characters, including the dictatorial Duncan  (Jeff Cummings) and his son Malcolm (Paul Cereghino), who is not inclined toward leadership. There’s also Lady Macbeth (Kelly Hummert), who is disillusioned for many reasons, including Duncan’s policies, the absence of her soldier husband (Sean Patrick Higgins), and a recent personal disappointment that she shares with her close companions Bianca (Patrice Foster) and Lady Macduff (Hailey Medrano), who has a new baby and is also missing her husband (Spencer Sickmann), who is currently at war and seems to never be home. Milling about the sanctuary that also includes a skate park, audience members can witness these various conversations and get an idea of the secretive, overly authoritarian regime, before Macbeth and Banquo (Shane Signorino) arrive and are confronted by the Weird Sisters (Tielere Cheatem, Alison Linderer, Cynthia Pohlson) to signal the beginning of the more linear play. The pre-show adds a lot of context to the interpretation of the characters and situations here, and the result is a chilling portrayal of a highly realistic situation, dealing with issues such as the polarization of society, totalitarianism, ambition, and the corruption of power. The up-close-and-personal arrangement brings the audience into the action as participants in the action, cast as war refugees and, at times, split into groups as part of the story, so this is a play that may be worth seeing–and experiencing–more than once, because depending on where you stand and what numbers are stamped onto your hand and wrist at the entry point, the experience can vary dramatically.

The setting, the backstory, and some new twists on the characters make this a whole new take on Macbeth, with more focus on the central couple, and on Lady M in particular, as well as some different context and reasoning behind their ambitions, as well as a drastically different interpretation of several characters, especially Duncan, Malcolm, and even the witches, who here seem more like ethereal mystical figures. Lady M, as embodied in a bold performance by Hummert, is every bit her husband’s partner here, and his rise to power is also hers, which makes her ultimate unraveling even more devastating. The obvious affection and attraction between the Macbeths is readily apparent as well, as the chemistry between Hummert and Higgins is palpable. Higgins’ journey from ambition to power is also made more personal here, and especially jarring in a key scene in which he gives a speech that says one thing, while the actions of his army around him seems to say something chillingly different. There are strong performances all around, from Sickmann’s single-minded Macduff, to Medrano’s neglected Lady Macduff, to Foster’s devoted Bianca, to the otherworldly Weird Sisters of Cheatem, Linderer, and Pohlson, as well as Cummings’s coolly pragmatic Duncan and Cereghino’s conflicted Malcolm.  It’s a bold, visceral, confrontational production that works on many levels, from the presentational to the personal.

Technically, the production values are impressive. The performance space poses particular challenges from its sheer size to its age, but the world of the play has been well realized here by Rebel and MIsfits’ technical team. Joe Novak’s set mostly consists of a few furniture pieces–most notably a large four-poster bed that is the focal point for many moments involving the Macbeths. The other major focus point is the skate park ramps on the other side of the performance area, although a few other areas in the room are also put to excellent use. The sound is something of a challenge–there’s an ominous soundtrack by Adam Frick-Verdine that adds a lot to the mood of the production, but the space itself is cavernous and often makes hearing dialogue difficult. Still, the visual aspects of the production are nothing short of stunning–from Eileen Engel’s memorable costumes to Jon Ontiveros’ truly striking lighting, illuminating the space in distinctive and colorful ways that make the most of the space and amplify the emotion of the production.

The interactive nature of this show can seem daunting at first if you’re unfamiliar with this type of theatre. I for one was more than a little nervous approaching this show, being the introvert that I am. Still, even though it took some time to adjust to the format, after a while I was able to get more into the spirit of the production. This production isn’t quite as “in-your-face” as I was fearing, but it’s certainly personal and as interactive as you want it to be, and it’s helpful to check out the company’s website for details of what to expect. You also get an email with instructions upon reserving your ticket. You can talk to the actors if you want, or you can keep your distance and be more of a people-watcher. It’s a daring undertaking, and I would think it would be especially conducive to repeat viewings. This is Macbeth like you’ve never seen it before, and it’s thrilling.

Cast of Macbeth: Come Like Shadows
Photo by Eric Woolsey
Rebel and Misfits Productions

Rebel and Misfits Productions is presenting Macbeth: Come Like Shadows until November 10, 2018

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The Tempest
by William Shakespeare
Directed by Patrick Siler
St. Louis Shakespeare
October 13, 2018

Donna Northcott, Ian Carlson, Erika Flowers-Roberts
Photo by Ron James
St. Louis Shakespeare

The Tempest from St. Louis Shakespeare is an audio-visual experience. It’s the well-known Shakespearean story, but with some interesting twists, especially in terms of sights, sounds, and staging. Here, director Patrick Siler makes a few casting modifications and brings the audience into this wild, weird, wondrous world, making the most of the space at the Ivory Theatre with a bold, mysterious, excellently cast production.

This production takes an approach that’s traditional and non-traditional in different ways. The costuming and setting are essentially Elizabethan style, with excellent detailed and colorful costumes by Michele Friedman Siler, and the island setting is well realized through Kyra Bishop-Sanford’s versatile unit set. The “non-traditional” is more in the casting, with many of the male characters being recast as women here, from lead character Prospera (Donna Northcott), the exiled Duchess of Milan, to her usurping, scheming sister Antonia (Teresa Doggett), to the Queen of Naples, Alonza (Laura S. Kyro), whose ship is wrecked in a storm stirred up by Prospera and scattered about the island. Alonza’s son Ferdinand (Ian Carlson) is thought to be lost, but instead he’s found by Prospera and her young daughter Miranda (Erika Flowers-Roberts), who has grown up on the island and hasn’t seen many humans besides her mother. She is fascinated with Ferdinand, and he with her, but Prospera wants to test him first before allowing them to marry. There’s also the mischievous sprite Ariel (Karl Hawkins), who helps Prospera in seeking to foil the plans of the scheming Antonia and Sebastian (Charles Winning), as well as of the vengeful, half-human outcast Caliban (Dustin S. Massie), who attaches himself to the bumbling shipwrecked Stephano (Jeff Lewis) and Trinculo (Anthony Winninger).

What is particularly memorable about this production is its sights and sounds–the dynamic lighting by Joseph Clapper and especially the sounds–mostly supplied by David N. Jackson and a variety of different instruments, from an electronic keyboard to an array of drums and percussion instruments. The cast members also employ drums and percussion on stage at certain moments, particularly the chilling “tempest” and shipwreck scene at the beginning and a celebration at the end. The staging is fast-paced, for the most part, with particular focus on Prospera, Miranda, and Ferdinand, as well as Ariel’s frequent influence and presence. Northcott makes a particularly determined, somewhat enigmatic Prospera, who is especially protective of her daughter. The chemistry between Carlson and Flowers-Roberts as the lovestruck Ferdinand and Miranda is sweet, as well, and Hawkins is a strong presence as the ethereal Ariel. There are also some strong comic moments from Winninger, Lewis, and Massie in their subplot, and memorable turns from a particularly regal Kyro as Alonza and Winning and Doggett as the self-serving Sebastian and Antonia.

This is an odd play, certainly. It’s one of Shakespeare’s strangest, and that’s saying something. There are some difficult questions regarding motives and social roles, but the focus in this production seems more on sensations and basic emotions. Here, on stage at the Ivory Theatre, St. Louis Shakespeare has brought a storm of sights, sounds, complicated relationships, and whimsical mysticism. This Tempest still has a lot to say, but even more so, a lot to see, hear, and experience. It’s an impressive technical feat.

Cast of The Tempest
Photo by Ron James
St. Louis Shakespeare

St. Louis Shakespeare is presenting The Tempest at the Ivory Theatre until October 21, 2018

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Romeo and Juliet
by William Shakespeare
Directed by Elena Araoz
Shakespeare Festival St. Louis
June 1, 2018

Sigrid Wise, Reynaldo Piniella
Photo by J. David Levy
Shakespeare Festival St. Louis

One of the things I love about Shakespeare is how timeless and adaptable the plays are. No matter what the setting, whether traditionally staged or modern dress, the plays still speak to modern times in terms of universal themes such as love, jealousy, family, friendships, and more. Sometimes, though, the staging of a play can set these themes in a way that’s more immediately accessible to modern audiences who may not be as famliar with more traditional stagings.  St Louis Shakespeare’s current production of Romeo and Juliet is a prime example of that kind of modern immediacy. With a strong sense of theme, a quick pace, and particularly modern phrasing, this production brings the classic story to life in a way that’s especially likely to resonate with today’s audience.

The familiar story of star-crossed lovers is here, presented on a colorful, scaffolding-and-neon decorated set designed by Margery and Peter Spack. The brightly colored costumes by Dottie Marshall Englis feature elements of various times, from modern day, to the 1970s and 80s, to Elizabethan times. The men wear swords, but also occasionally sport modern-style backpacks or carry an 80s-era boombox. Romeo (Reynaldo Piniella) and his friends Mercutio (Terrell Wheeler) and Benvolio (Antonio Rodriguez) are dressed in more “today” clothes, while Romeo’s parents, Lord and Lady Montague (David Heron, Patrice Foster) are more 70s-styled, while Lord and Lady Capulet (Michael James Reed, Cherie Corrine Rice) are in more of a modern upper class style, and Juliet (Sigrid Wise) is in vaguely modern styles that can’t really be tied to a specific decade, and the Nurse (Jane Paradise) is outfitted in more generally traditional garb, as is Friar Lawrence (Gary Glasgow); and the Prince (Pete Winfrey, who also plays Paris) is decidedly more Elizabethan. It’s a hodgepodge of styles, but possibly because of the color scheme and the vaguely but not specifically modern set, it’s all more or less cohesive.  The tone-shift inherent in this play, from comedy in the first half to tragedy in the second, is maintained here, with the early scenes given a sort of ominous underscoring by the excellent Dust Ensemble, who provided a musical score for the production that lends much to the overall atmosphere, style, and drama of the production, along with Rusty Wandall’s sound design and John Wylie’s bold lighting design.

One notable difference from other productions of this play that I’ve scene is the way the language is delivered. Shakespeare’s dialogue has not been altered, but the way the characters speak it has been given a more directly modern cadence and approach, so that the youth of the title characters and their peers is highlighted all the more, as is the boldness and confrontational tone of much of the proceedings. The words and fast-paced direction blend well with the musical score to heighten the emotions of key moments. The cast is excellent, as well, with Piniella’s impulsive Romeo and Wise’s sheltered, curious Juliet well-matched, bringing a chemistry to their interactions that is easy to believe. There are also standout performances from Wheeler as a particularly brash Mercutio, Dakota Granados as the confrontational Tybalt, Paradise as the devoted, doting Nurse, Glasgow as the well-meaning Friar Lawrence, and Patrick Blindauer in three distinct roles. The Montagues and Capulets are well-paired, as well, and performances are strong and cohesive across the board.

As excellent as this production is, I have one quibble with the overall Festival set-up this year. The general layout of the space at Forest Park’s Shakespeare Glen has been changed around significantly, with the Green Show stage, refreshment stands, and other areas moved from where they have been for the past several years. For the most part, this works, except for the woefully inadequate restroom facilities that have been reduced in number and moved much further away from where they used to be. I imagine this could cause difficulties with crowds during intermission. I hope the Festival fixes this situation in future years.

As for the play itself, the overall impression of this production is a fresh, bold approach to the material that brings out the youthfulness of the protagonists and the seriousness of their story. Although much of the styling here in from previous decades, tonally this is a Romeo and Juliet for today, directed in a way that makes the action and relationships immediate and relatable.  It’s another excellent presentation of Shakespeare’s work from SFSTL.

Reynaldo Piniella, Sigrid Wise
Photo by J. David Levy
Shakespeare Festival St. Louis

Shakespeare Festival St. Louis is presenting Romeo and Juliet in Forest Park until June 24, 2018.

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Titus Androgynous : Un Comico Spettocolare
by William Shakespeare, Adapted by Chuck Harper
Directed by Chuck Harper
YoungLiars
October 28, 2017

Katy Keating, Jonah Walker
Photo: YoungLiars

This year, St. Louis has already seen a somewhat subdued production of Shakespeare’s notorious “bloodiest” play, Titus Andronicus, from St. Louis Shakespeare. Now, another company, the ambitious YoungLiars, has gone the other way entirely, hamming up the comedy and the blood in an over-the-top comic/horror/musical adaptation they’ve titled Titus Androgynous. It’s a definite twist on the source material, but it’s a hilarious twist.

The story here has been streamlined and tweaked, but it’s essentially the Titus Andronicus story with a few name changes and an emphasis on comedy and gore, to the point where the cart containing the copious amounts of stage blood used in the play is a prominent feature. There’s also, as suggested by the title, a Commedia Dell-Arte influence. Also prominently featured is Paul Cereghino as Valentine, the Master of Ceremonies, who plays keyboards and sings much of the narration of the story. All the characterizations are over-the-top here, and there’s also a good deal of breaking the fourth wall, as Cereghino tells the story and relates theatrical conventions as it goes–such as having some actors play more than one character, as well as when Valentine himself decides he wants to be in the play and takes on the role of a Clown, with hilarious results. The emphasis here is on comedy, sensationalism, and lots of scenery-chewing, telling the story of Titus (Jonah Walker) and his battle of revenge with Roman empress and former Queen of the Goths Tamora (Maggie Conroy), with a cast of characters (spellings as listed in the program) including Titus’s daughter Lavinia (Rachel Tibbetts), his sons Luscious (Mitch Eagles), Quintas (Amanda Wales), and Mutius (Ellie Schwetye), and his father Old Marcus Jeff Skoblow), as well as Tamora’s sons Demetriass (also Wales), Chiron (also Schwetye), and Alarbus (also Keating), along with Tamora’s husband, Roman Emperor Saturnanus (Isaiah de Lorenzo), his brother and would-be Emperor Bassianus (also Eagles), and Tamora’s scheming lover Aaron the Moore (Erin Renee Roberts).

YoungLiars has taken the original source’s “bloody” reputation and amped it up to the max here, to the point where the overall effect is more comic than gory. Still, if you are especially squeamish about blood on stage, take this as a warning. There is a lot of stage blood used in this production, and it’s not subtle. That aforementioned cart with the blood and various accessories is put to frequent use. David Blake’s scenic design is also characterized by the liberal use of white plastic sheeting. The costumes, by Maggie Conroy, are stylized, with a decidedly macabre, gothic look. Also prominent is the music, composed by Cereghino and played by Cereghino on keyboards and Michael Ferguson on drums, with a creepy-comic style that adds much to the overall atmosphere of this production.

Performance-wise, everyone is in top form, hamming it up to the extreme, with extremely hilarious results. Cereghino is a standout as the over-eager narrator and, later, as a persistent, pigeon-keeping Clown. There are also memorable performances from Keating in various roles, from Roberts as the gleefully villainous Aaron, by Walker and Conroy as the bitterly feuding Titus and Tamora, by Tibbetts as the tragic Lavinia, and by Schwetye and Wales in turns as Titus’s sons and Tamora’s sons. The whole cast is strong, though, seeming to revel in the exaggerated goriness of the proceedings in a plot that involves multiple murders, revenge, and even cannibalism.

Titus Androgynous is, in essence, Titus Andronicus turned up to its loudest, with a viciously comic twist and a memorable musical score. For anyone with a penchant for the macabre, this is the play for you. This is a bold, confrontational, and darkly hilarious production.

Maggie Conroy, Erin Renee Roberts
Photo: YoungLiars

YoungLiars is presenting Titus Androgynous at the Centene Center for the Arts until November 11, 2017

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Hamlet
by William Shakespeare
Directed by Paul Mason Barnes
Repertory Theatre of St. Louis
October 13, 2017

Ross Cowan, Jim Poulos, Stephen Hu
Photo by Peter Wochniak

Repertory Theatre of St. Louis

Hamlet is arguably Shakespeare’s best-known play. It’s certainly oft-studied and oft-performed. Still, in its 51 years of existence in St. Louis, the Rep had never actually staged it, until now. And now, the Hamlet they’re staging is not exactly what you may expect. Produced by much of the team behind the Rep’s excellent A Midsummer Night’s Dream from a few years ago, this Hamlet is fresh, immediate, and characterized by a dynamic, highly physical performance from its leading actor.

Story-wise, this is Hamlet. It’s Shakespeare’s tale of the titular Danish prince (Jim Poulos), who is visited by the ghost of his late father, the previous King of Denmark, and urged to avenge his father’s death at the hands of his uncle, Claudius (Michael James Reed), who has not only taken over as king but has also married the queen, Hamlet’s mother Gertrude (Robynn Rodriguez). As Hamlet undertakes his effort at revenge, he confides his plans to his friend Horatio (Christopher Gerson), but his actions start to perplex those around him, including the members of the king’s court, Hamlet’s sometime love interest Ophelia (Kim Wong), her father Polonius (Larry Paulsen), Gertrude, and the increasingly suspicious Claudius, who enlists the help of Hamlet’s old friends Rosencrantz (Ross Cowan) and Guildenstern (Stephen Hu) and eventually Opehelia’s brother Laertes (Carl Howell) in foiling Hamlet’s plans. The results of all this plotting, planning, and revenge-seeking is famously tragic, with consequences affecting essentially everyone to one degree or another.

That’s the basic plot description, but this play–as with all of Shakespeare’s plays–can be staged in many different ways. The approach taken by director Paul Mason Barnes for this production is decidedly fast-paced and physical, particularly in the casting of Hamlet himself. Having previously played Puck so memorably in the Rep’s production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Poulos brings us a particularly puckish portrayal of the Melancholy Dane. His Hamlet is thoughtful, but he’s also confrontational, witty, and full of dynamic energy, challenging baffling Claudius and crew with his actions and body language as much as, if not more than, his words. It’s a brilliantly visceral performance. There are also impressive turns by Gerson as the sympathetic Horatio, Reed as the scheming, guilt-addled Claudius, Wong as the caring, manipulated, and increasingly unstable Ophelia, Paulsen as her busybody father Polonius, and Howell as a particularly earnest Laertes. Rodriguez as Gertrude is a standout as well, making her confusion and growing concern for Hamlet palpable and her famous “closet scene” devastatingly effective. Jonathan Gillard Daly and Tarah Flanagan are also excellent in dual roles as the Player King and Queen and as the gravediggers. It’s a strong cast all around, with excellent ensemble chemistry and excellent support from the entire ensemble.

Visually, this production is notable for its stark, imposing minimalist set designed by Michael Ganio. Consisting of some scaffolding, an ominous leaning wall, and a series of plain square pedestals all arranged around a large looming column, the set serves well in facilitating the often urgent staging of this play. The fantastic lighting by Lonnie Rafael Alcarez, the sumptuously detailed 19th Century-influenced costumes by Dorothy Marshall Englis, and the superb sound design and atmospheric original music by Barry G. Funderberg all contribute to the overall immediate, intense atmosphere.

It could be easy to ask why it’s taken so long for the Rep to produce Hamlet, but it’s also easy to say now that I can’t imagine how they could have done it better. Particularly in its casting and fast-paced staging, this is a Hamlet that is confrontational and majoring on emotion, with a truly remarkable title performance at its heart. It’s a theatrical triumph for the Rep.

Cast of Hamlet
Photo by Peter Wochniak
Repertory Theatre of St. Louis

The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis is presenting Hamlet until November 5, 2017

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Titus Andronicus
by William Shakespeare
Directed by Tom Kopp
St. Louis Shakespeare
August 25, 2017

Chris LaBanca, Britteny Henry, Chad Little, Riley James
evPhoto by Ron James
St. Louis Shakespeare

Titus Andronicus is often thought of as something like “B-movie Shakespeare”. It’s kind of like the Bard’s equivalent of a slasher flick, full of blood and guts and drama, and because of that, it hasn’t been that highly regarded until relatively recently. It’s over-the-top in many ways, although St. Louis Shakespeare’s latest staging strikes me as about as “toned-down” as this show could get. The violence and blood are definitely there, but with this production, those elements aren’t as sensationalized as they could be. It’s still not for the squeamish, but there appears to be an attempt to find some meaning amidst all the gore.

The story, set in the time of the Roman Empire, follows victorious general Titus (Chad Little) upon returning from battle. Titus has a close-knit family, with brother Marcus (Chris LaBanca), daughter Lavinia (Britteny Henry), and sons Lucius (Erik Kuhn), Quintus (Maxwell Knocke), Martius (Brennen Eller), and Mutius (Joshua Parrack). He angers the Queen of the Goths, Tamora (Suki Peters) by sacrificing her son, and then upsets new Emperor Saturninus (Roger Erb) when Lavinia won’t marry him, as she prefers to marry his brother Bassianus (Scott Mcdonald). So, then Saturninus marries Tamora and Tamora plots revenge on Titus, aided by her sons Demetrius (Ted Drury) and Chiron (Michael Pierce), and her lover Aaron (Darrious Varner).  And then, well, things just go from bad to worse, with lots of plotting, executions, brutal assaults, dismemberments, and one element that’s somewhat reminiscent of Sweeney Todd, even though this story predates that one.

This is a tragedy, but with sensationalism inherent in the plot, and a lot of opportunities to play up that sensationalism. This production, however, mostly downplays those opportunities, although there are some strong acting moments and an especially poignant final scene. The acting is strong, for the most part, with Little as a determined and somewhat bewildered Titus, and Henry especially strong as Lavinia, who is at once the most blameless and the most mistreated character in the show. There are also good performances from LaBanca as the loyal Marcus, Kuhn as Lucius, Peters as the scheming Tamora, Varner as the equally scheming Aaron, and Drury and Pierce as Tamora’s vicious and murderous sons. It’s a large cast, and everyone does a good job with what they are given, but I find the overall direction to be a little too restrained considering the material.

The time and mood of the play are set well in the technical aspects, with Chuck Winning’s set well-detailed and suggestive of a crumbling city in disrepair, which works as a reflection of the story, and Zahra Agha’s costumes suit the characters and the play’s Roman setting well. There’s also excellent lighting by Darren Thompson, sound by Ted Drury, and props by Meg Brinkley.

Titus Andronicus is an intense play, with some downright gruesome and brutal subject matter including murder, rape, betrayal, and even cannibalism. There’s a lot of plotting and scheming, and revenge that begets more revenge. Although Shakespeare’s plays can be violent, this one is probably the most extreme in that way, although the way St. Louis Shakespeare stages it, it’s not quite as extreme as it could be. In a way, that works, making the characters seem more human than they could, but in other ways it seems like the direction doesn’t quite fit the material. Still, it’s a good production, and worth seeing if you have a strong stomach.

Suki Peters, Darrious Varner
Photo by Ron James
St. Louis Shakespeare

St. Louis Shakespeare is presenting Titus Andronicus at the Ivory Theatre until September 3, 2017.

 

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The Winter’s Tale
by William Shakespeare
Directed by Bruce Longworth
Shakespeare Festival St. Louis
June 2, 2017

Chauncy Thomas, Cherie Corinne Rice (Left), Charles Pasternak (Right) and cast of The Winter’s Tale
Photo by J. David Levy
Shakespeare Festival St. Louis

It’s time to return to Forest Park again, for the latest production from Shakespeare Festival St. Louis. This year, the show is The Winter’s Tale,  the Bard’s somewhat mysterious tragedy/comedy/mystery/romance, and it’s in good hands, with veteran director Bruce Longworth, a strong cast, and stunning production values which contribute to a fascinating dramatic journey in SFSTL’s Shakespeare Glen.

This is an unusual play, and one of Shakespeare’s more controversial considering the major tone shift that happens in the middle, and the inexplicable actions of some of the characters. It’s a fascinating story especially when staged well, and it is here. The Winter’s Tale starts out somewhat light-heartedly but then plunges quickly into the drama, and then into tragedy, before transforming itself again into more of a comic romance with a somewhat mysterious ending. The “tale” follows Leontes (Charles Pasternak), the king of Sicilia, who is happily married to Hermione (Cherie Corinne Rice), who is expecting their second child. When their friend, Polixenes King of Bohemia (Chauncy Thomas) wants to cut short his visit and Hermione convinces him to stay, Leontes’ is suddenly plagued by irrational, raging jealousy, convinced that his wife has betrayed him and that her unborn child was fathered by his friend. This leads to a chain of events that involves murder plots, self-exile, accusations, and death. Then there’s the intermission, and we come back to a pastoral romantic comedy sixteen years later as Leontes’ exiled daughter Perdita (Cassia Thompson), who has been raised by a bumbling Shepherd (Whit Reichert) and his even more bumbling son (Antonio Rodriguez), is romanced by Polixenes’s son Florizel (Pete Winfrey), who hasn’t told Perdita who he is, nor has he told his father who he’s romancing.  At first, it isn’t entirely clear how the two sections of the play will be tied together, but eventually they are, in a grand, fantastical fashion orchestrated by Hermione’s wise, protective gentlewoman Paulina (Rachel Christopher).

This is a fascinating play, and the tone-shift is part of what makes it so interesting. The blend of tragedy, comedy, and romance is somewhat jarring, but this production makes the most of it. The music by Matt Pace and Brien Seyle contributes a great deal to the mood, with a more classical chamber-music type vibe in Sicilia and more folky, rustic air in Bohemia. The look of production is striking, as well, with richly detailed costumes by Dottie Marshall Englis that seem to be in a late-18th, early-19th Century style. Scott C. Neale’s versatile unit set shifts well from setting to setting, and there are some excellent effects from lighting designer John Wylie and sound designer Rusty Wandall. The overall pacing is brisk without being too hurried, and all the right tonal notes are met, from the poignant to the jarring to the whimsical.

The casting here, as usual for SFSTL, is strong, and features some welcome returning players, including the excellent Pasternak as the jealous Leontes, whose journey from irrational rage to contrition is made credible. Rice is also strong as the wronged Hermione, and there is excellent work from all of the key players, including Winfrey and Thompson, who display a sweet chemistry as the lovers Florizel and Perdita. There’s good comic work from Reichert and Rodriguez as the Shepherd and his son, and a wonderful comic turn by Gary Glasgow as the scheming, opportunistic con artist, Autolycus. Thompson as Polixenes and Anderson Matthews as the loyal courtier Camillo also give strong performances, as does Michael James Reed as the earnest Antigonus, Paulina’s husband and the unfortunate victim of Shakespeare’s most famous stage direction (“Exit, pursued by a bear”). Christopher, as Paulina, is a real standout in a strong, powerful performance as the protective, somewhat mysterious Paulina. There’s also a strong ensemble lending excellent support to the principal cast.

Shakespeare Festival St. Louis is one of the highlights of June in St. Louis. Free Shakespeare done with such expertise and style is always a treat, and The Winter’s Tale is another prime example of this company’s excellence. It’s a thoughtful, engaging, superbly staged and performed production, and I highly recommend it. I’m looking forward to next year in the Glen as well, when SFSTL will present the Bard’s classic tragedy Romeo and Juliet.

 

Pete Winfrey, Whit Reichert, Cassia Thompson
Photo by J. David Levy
Shakespeare Festival St. Louis

Shakespeare Festival St. Louis is presenting The Winter’s Tale in Forest Park’s Shakespeare Glen until June 25, 2017

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