Off-Off-Broadway Theater Review: THE WINTER’S TALE (WorkShop Theater at The Main Stage Theater)

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by Dmitry Zvonkov on March 4, 2014

in Theater-New York

A FINE INTRODUCTION TO SHAKESPEARE

It takes a few minutes to get going but once it does Ryan Lee’s staging of Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale becomes dynamic entertainment; Mr. Lee and his fine group of actors succeed in making the experience of watching a 400-year-old play written in verse both intimate and immediate.

Ethan Cadoff as LEONTES and Annalisa Loeffler as PAULINA in WorkShop Theatre's THE WINTER'S TALE.

King of Cicilia, Leontes (Ethan Cadoff), having instructed his pregnant wife Hermione (Laurie Schroeder) to entertain his visiting best friend Polixenes (Jeff Paul), becomes suddenly and inexplicably jealous watching the two strolling together. Convincing himself that they have made a cuckold of him, Leontes orders his best friend murdered and his wife thrown into prison. Polixenes is warned of the plot and escapes, but innocent Hermione, her son Mamillius (Clark Loeffler), and later her newborn daughter, must bear the brunt of Leontes’ wrath.

Tess Frazer as PERDITA, Jon-Michael Miller as FLORIZEL, Jacob Callie Moore as CLOWN, and Robert Meksin as AUTOLYCUS in WorkShop Theatre's THE WINTER'S TALE.

Not to worry though, The Winter’s Tale is classified as a comedy, or a romance, depending on which scholar you ask. The point is that it has, or appears to have, a happy ending; that’s certainly where Mr. Lee takes it, navigating it away from the ironic, the sardonic, the ambiguous. I couldn’t see much between the lines of this staging, but even taken at face value this work of Shakespeare’s has a lot to offer and Mr. Lee successfully brings that to life, eliciting all around solid performances. A few of these are particularly memorable: Ms. Schroeder is especially moving as a loving and virtuous wife condemned; Robert Meksin is thoroughly delightful in the choice role of Autolycus, an eccentric and not unkind thief; and Tess Frazer plays Leontes’ grown daughter Perdita with such remarkable naturalism and quiet sincerity that the formal and foreign elements of Shakespeare melt away and we find ourselves watching a girl living life on that stage.

Jeff Paul as POLIXENES (background) and Ethan Cadoff as LEONTES in WorkShop Theatre's THE WINTER'S TALE.

Mr. Lee’s straightforward interpretation though is perhaps why Mr. Cadoff’s performance never feels quite convincing. Not to take anything away from his acting abilities, but in this case it appears that something is not quite worked out with his character. Leontes’ motivations are a mystery to us. Unfortunately they also appear to be somewhat mysterious to Misters Cadoff and Lee; I am unable to find any clues indicating the director’s point of view as to what is behind Leontes’ jealousy and actions. There are nuances unexplored between him a noblewoman and friend of the Queen, Paulina (the excellent Annalisa Loeffler), and Mr. Lee’s interpretation of Shakespeare’s poetic ending as it relates to Leontes feels a little too literal and one-dimensional—perhaps a little too happy.

Jon-Michael Miller as FLORIZEL and Tess Frazer as PERDITA in WorkShop Theatre's THE WINTER'S TALE.Additional cast includes Michael Selkirk, Bill Tatum, James Michael Armstrong, Jacob Callie Moore, Jon-Michael Miller.

photos by Gerry Goodstein

The Winter’s Tale
WorkShop Theater Company
The Main Stage Theater
312 W 36th Street, 4th Floor
scheduled to end on March 15, 2014
for tickets, call (212) 695-4173
or visit WorkShop Theater

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