Chicago Theater Review: THE WINTER’S TALE (Promethean Theatre Ensemble)

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by Lawrence Bommer on November 15, 2014

in Theater-Chicago

A NOT QUITE FRACTURED FAIRY TALE

A late bloomer, Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale belies its adage that “A sad tale’s best for winter.” This tragi-comedy has a spring to it as well, contrasting the first act’s stern Sicilian-set tale of one ruler’s instant jealousy (which kills his wife and child) with, 16 years later, a second-act sequel in Bohemia that reconciles old enemies and even resurrects the seeming dead.

Peter Ash as Florizel, Paige Reilly as Perdita, Megan DeLay as Paulina, John Arthur Lewis as Leontes, Cameron Feagin as Hermione, and Jared Dennis as Polixenes in Promethean Theatre’s THE WINTER’S TALE.  Photo by Tom McGrath. Photo by Tom McGrath.

The redemptive romance behind this “problem play” makes for uncertain drama: You can’t let the Bard’s melodramatic machinery expose the wishful thinking of this fairy tale. That nearly happens in Brian Pastor’s sturdy staging for Promethean Theatre Ensemble, placed in an indeterminate period as supple make-believe sometimes requires. There’s a kind of forced merriment to the rural romp in Bohemia, a clumsy clowning that makes the more formal return to Sicily and the forgiveness of ancient enmities an unwitting relief. The sad stuff here seems more solid than the lyrical interludes.

John Walski as Shepherd and Brian Hurst as Clown in Promethean Theatre Ensemble’s THE WINTER’S TALE. Photo by Tom McGrath.

As always, Shakespeare marvels as he depicts the gratuitous “green sickness” of envious King Leontes (John Arthur Lewis, piling rapid remorse onto sudden rage) who falsely accuses his noble Hermione (Cameron Feagin, balancing rancor against righteousness) of dirty doings with his boyhood pal King Polixenes of Bohemia (Jared Dennis, rightly confused by this cruelty). With the help of the Queen’s protectress Paulina (firebrand Megan DeLay), the accused bastard child is spirited off to safety in Bohemia, after which her deliverer, Paulina’s husband Antigonus (Brendan Hutt) “exits, pursued by a bear” (here a very unconvincing wraith).

John Walski & Peter Ash as Lords, John Arthur Lewis as Leontes, Megan DeLay as Paulina, and Brendan Hutt as Antigonus in Promethean Theatre Ensemble’s THE WINTER’S TALE. Photo by Tom McGrath.

All is made well in Bohemia and finally Sicily. The next generation unknowingly heals the wounds of their feuding, now penitent, parents: The lost child Perdita (Paige Reilly, full of amazement) unwittingly falls in love with Polixenes’ son Florizel (a rather flat Peter Ash). A contrived but welcome miracle seals the reconciliation.

Jared Dennis as Polixenes and Nick Lake as Camillo in Promethean Theatre Ensemble’s THE WINTER’S TALE. Photo by Tom McGrath.

Pastor’s revival convinces more in the tragic than in the romantic scenes. But stylistic unevenness is almost expected with The Winter’s Tale. It’s hard to make this somewhat schizoid drama fire on all pistons, so variegated is Shakespeare’s mash-up of sorrow and silliness (like the roguish peddler-thief Autolycus, broadly played by Dave Skvarla, an irritating buffoon who hardly advances the second-act plot).

Cameron Feagin as Hermione, Jared Dennis as Polixenes, John Arthur Lewis as Leontes, Nick Lake as Camillo, and Janeane Bowlware as Mamillius in Promethean Theatre Ensemble’s THE WINTER’S TALE. Photo by Tom McGrath.

For the most part Promethean’s 14 players stay on top of the play’s leaps of logic as much as faith. The happy ending, which opens up new questions as it solves old ones, comes from the audience’s hopes, not the story’s dynamics. Hope and change can be treacherous, we know, but we can’t help wanting one to fix the other.

Cameron Feagin as Hermione, Janeane Bowlware as Mamillius, Diana Coates & Nicole Hand as Ladies in Promethean Theatre Ensemble’s THE WINTER’S TALE. Photo by Tom McGrath.

John Arthur Lewis as Leontes and Cameron Feagin as Hermione in Promethean Theatre Ensemble’s THE WINTER’S TALE. Photo by Tom McGrath.photos by Tom McGrath

Brian Hurst in Promethean Theatre Ensemble’s THE WINTER’S TALE. Photo by Tom McGrath.

 

Jared Dennis as Polixenes, Peter Ash as Florizel, and Paige Reilly as Perdita in Promethean Theatre Ensemble’s THE WINTER’S TALE. Photo by Tom McGrath.The Winter’s Tale
Promethean Theatre Ensemble
Athenaeum Theatre Studio One
2936 N. Southport Ave.
Thurs-Sat at 7:30; Sun at 2
scheduled to end on December 13, 2014
for tickets, call 773.935.6875
or visit www.prometheantheatre.org

for more info on Chicago Theater, visit www.TheatreinChicago.com

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