San Diego Theater Review: THE WINTER’S TALE (Old Globe Theatre in Balboa Park)

by Tony Frankel on March 7, 2014

in Theater-Los Angeles,Theater-Regional

SHAKESOPHRENIC, OR SCHIZSPEARE

Paul Michael Valley, A.Z. Kelsey, Maya Kazan, Billy Campbell, and Angel Desai in Shakespeare's THE WINTER’S TALE at The Old Globe.American director Barry Edelstein knows his Shakespeare. Before being appointed Artistic Director of the Old Globe 16 months ago, he was Director of the Shakespeare Initiative at New York City’s Public Theater, which means he not only directed Shakespeare but oversaw all of the company’s Shakespeare productions, including Shakespeare in the Park. In his directorial debut at the Globe, Edelstein took on The Winter’s Tale, one of Shakespeare’s most schizophrenic plays. It is categorized as a tragedy, but the tragic deaths here are in the middle; the latter half is a comic romance followed by an almost tagged on happy but bittersweet ending. Unfortunately, Edelstein’s often beautiful direction, although drenched in a lot of neat theatrical trickery, and the ensemble’s performances are as schizoid as the script’s construction.

Paul Michael Valley, Billy Campbell and Natacha Roi in Shakespeare's THE WINTER’S TALE at The Old Globe.It’s a great play, actually. The structure is fascinating because it mirrors the dominant character—Leontes, King of Sicilia—who displays an unexplainable mental illness which leads to intense mood swings and unpredictable behavior. Inexplicably jealous of his wife Hermione’s intimacy with the visiting Polixenes, King of Bohemia, Leontes throws a tirade, and even becomes psychotic when Polixenes suddenly flees town. Even after the consulted Oracle of Delos sends a message that his dear childhood friend and good wife are blameless, Leontes sends his Queen to prison, where she gives birth to their daughter. The irrational Leontes banishes the baby, and both Hermione and his beloved son Mamillius—heir to the throne—die. A Lord named Antigonus abandons the newborn girl on the coast of Bohemia; when he is about to take pity on the child, he is chased away in one of Shakespeare’s most famous stage directions: “Exit, pursued by a bear.”

Billy Campbell and the cast in Shakespeare's THE WINTER’S TALE at The Old Globe.It’s sixteen years later, and the play switches from royal tragedy to pastoral comedy. Leontes’ daughter Perdita has been raised overseas by an Old Shepard and his son, Clown (yes, those are their names). Perdita is now in love with Polixenes’ son, Florizel, who keeps the romance secret from his royal dad. Disguises, recognitions, a feast, and the antics of a superfluous comic relief peddler named Autolycus ensue. In the end, Leontes is reunited with daughter and wife, a statue that miraculously comes back to life. Lovers are happily coupled; friends are forgiven; and a lump in the throat remains as we remember the unredeemed tragedy of Leontes’ dead son Mamillius.

Billy Campbell (center) with (from left) Mark Nelson, Angel Desai, Natacha Roi, Patrick Zeller, and Paul Michael Valley in Shakespeare's THE WINTER’S TALE at The Old Globe.Now you know why scholars refer to this as a “problem play.” It takes a keen director to ensure all parts are believable. One of the problems in this production is Leontes’ motivation. Billy Campbell makes the King believably vulnerable and tortured, but Edelstein, who intelligently breaks up some longer monologues, gives no insight whatsoever into the jealousy’s genesis; instead, Leontes is shown as a happy family man who suddenly and unaccountably turns on a dime. It’s especially odd given that the gorgeous Campbell is jealous of the not-so-gorgeous Paul Michael Valley as Polixenes—switching the actors may have helped immensely, but Valley isn’t a star.

A.Z. Kelsey and Maya Kazan in Shakespeare's THE WINTER’S TALE at The Old Globe.Also implausible and out of the blue is that statue of Hermione suddenly coming to life. We don’t know that Hermione is actually dead; the news is delivered secondhand by her loyal friend Paulina (Angel Desai), wife of the bear-mauled Antigonus. Without any indication that Hermione (Natacha Roi, frozen in a weird Classical Madonna pose) may have actually been stashed away by Paulina, the sudden transformation from death to life is as confusing and as unconvincing as Leontes’ jealousy.

Billy Campbell, Natacha Roi, A.Z. Kelsey and Maya Kazan in Shakespeare's THE WINTER’S TALE at The Old Globe.Edelstein offers stunning design elements—a mainstay at the Old Globe—and modernizes the tale, but Judith Dolan’s costumes are as all-over-the-map as the direction. The Sicilian men are suited and tuxedoed, while the royal women are prepared for a fundraiser at an English prep school. Later in Bohemia, the outfits seem to be pulled from a rack of the picnic scene from The Pajama Game, and Paul Kandel’s Autolycus is right out of Oklahoma! Later, while the kids stand around in jeans, Hermione is frozen in a tapestried Spanish Renaissance gown that looks like it’s from the undersea kingdom of The Little Mermaid.

Paul Kandel (right) and the cast in Shakespeare's THE WINTER’S TALE at The Old Globe.It seems that Edelstein was so busy with attractive production values—a gorgeous toy piano resembling a Steinway, a reel-to-reel tape recorder, trapdoors, rolling stairways, flowers popping out of the stage—that the cast was left to their own devices. Some excelled, others didn’t. Overall, there was a lack of nuance; some players were slightly mannered and their movements premeditated. And would someone explain to me Kander’s Autolycus? His combination of Brecht and Children’s Theater as his character peddled a program from Cats (I’m not kidding) was jarring at best.

Natacha Roi, Jordi Bertran, and Billy Campbell in Shakespeare's THE WINTER’S TALE at The Old Globe.Roi’s transformation from ruddy, pregnant Queen to weak, confused prisoner was lovely, and Mark Nelson was distinctive, fresh and authentic as the Shepard. The young lovers Florizel and Perdita are played with surface charm by the dazzlingly attractive A.Z. Kelsey (recently seen in The Public Theater’s Mobile Shakespeare Unit production of Much Ado About Nothing) and Maya Kazan (sister of playwright/actress Zoe Kazan, and granddaughter of director Elia Kazan).

Sadly, the Globe continues its tradition of casting actors that they—or the director—have already worked with (and/or are well-connected); only 3 actors of the 22-member cast mentioned this as a Globe debut in their bios. It would have been easier to forgive Edelstein’s higgledy-piggledy direction had each actor been well-cast and distinctive in his or her role.

(foreground) Billy Campbell and Mark Nelson with (background) Albert Park, Kushtrim Hoxha, Brendan Spieth, and Robbie Simpson in Shakespeare's THE WINTER’S TALE at The Old Globe.photos by Jim Cox

The Winter’s Tale
Old Globe Theatre
1363 Old Globe Way in Balboa Park
scheduled to end on March 16, 2014
for tickets, call (619) 23-GLOBE
or visit www.TheOldGlobe.org

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