"From the storming of an angry father to the triumph of a hungry bear and the wronging of a beloved mother, Blixt spins a tale that could be imaginings of a young prince, even to the point of his tragic demise. " - Encore Michigan
Baughman Theatre - Jackson MI
THE WINTER'S TALE
Michigan Shakespeare Festival
Best "of the Bard"
Wilde Awards, 2012*
* The Wilde Awards
Michigan Professional Theatre Awards
Best Production encompasses Best Director
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'WINTER' Chills Hearts In Jackson - Bridgette Redman, Encore Michigan
There is beauty in darkness, and even on the hottest of summer's day it is possible to catch a chill from the wintering of an overly suspicious heart.
Winter has come to Jackson courtesy of the Michigan Shakespeare Festival, with chill colors, heavy furs and water-based fog setting the scene for a Sicilia that is cold, dark and forbidding. The heavy stone walls do little to keep the frost at bay, for it seems settled on everyone's brow who dwells in this land of ever twilight. Only when the play moves to Bohemia are there flowers, sunny skies and people willing to laugh and freely love.
The Winter's Tale centers around a jealous king, Leontes, played by David Blixt, who interprets the demonstrative, friendly spirit of his wife as evidence of adultery and unfaithfulness. Unlike other Shakespeare heroes who are gulled into jealousies by unscrupulous villains, Leontes creates his green-eyed monster out of the shadows of his heart. His jealousy, and the arrogant hubris that prevents him from hearing the counsel of his trusted friends, wreaks havoc on his family and his kingdom.
Director Jan Blixt is meticulous in her mood-setting with Jeromy Hopgood's austere Sicilian set and Renae Pedersen Skoog's dark, medieval costuming immediately alerting the audience that there is little of airy hope in this land. While many productions of Winter's Tale will allow a few brief moments of affection between Leontes and his delightfully hospitable queen, Hermione, there is no such warmth in this king. The queen and all the subjects stand apart until the king bids them do otherwise. Even in the opening scene, Leontes stands in the background glowering, a foreshadow of the tyrant that he will become. We never see the king who has inspired the warm friendship of Polixenes, devoted love of Hermione and faithful service of Camillo, Paulina and others.
Susaan Jamshidi as Hermione does show more outward affection to the king's friend and her servants than she does to the king himself, but David Blixt's Leontes is not a man who welcomes warmth. Jamshidi and William Irwin's Polixenes do behave in a manner that could inspire jealousy, for their hand-holding and closeness is juxtaposed by a kingdom of people who stand far apart from each other and show little by way of physical affection except between parent and child.
Director Blixt emphasizes the fairy tale like aspects with a repeating scene between Jamshidi, Janet Haley's Paulina and the young Michael Ivanitsky who plays Mamillius, Herminone and Leontes' son. Mamillius has stories to tell his mother, stories that are sad and scary as befits the chilly, dangerous weather. From the storming of an angry father to the triumph of a hungry bear and the wronging of a beloved mother, Blixt spins a tale that could be imaginings of a young prince, even to the point of his tragic demise. It is a device accentuated by the reappearance of the mother-son pair as ghostly figures throughout the play.
It also makes sense that a boy intimidated by a powerful father would imagine the limited range of emotions displayed in Leontes who moves between anger and despair and both of those in extremities. A young boy would also see his mother as gentle and pure and her best friend Paulina as a sharp-tongued lioness unafraid of the king's power.
Bohemia is also shown in a fantastical manner, the fantasy of a boy who has not traveled there. It is a land filled with flowers and light, complete with a beautiful princess whose nobility shines through despite her upbringing by a rustic shepherd. In a prince's fantasy, the younger sister would of course have her worth recognized by a king’s son, and the once-reasonable and calm Polixenes would burn with rage when crossed by his prince. From the mind of a child there could be little but unreasoning disapproval from a distant father, and even the reconciliation is told through second-hand accounts as if it were too much out of a child's experience to show it first-hand.
A standout performer in this, as well as the other two Michigan Shakespeare productions, is Buz Davis whose Camillo serves two kings faithfully. Davis creates a well-rounded character with great depth and motives that seek to do everyone good. The Shepherd Alan Ball and his son, played by Daniel Mozurkewich, provide a welcoming contrast to the heavy seriousness of most of the other characters. They are simple people easily taken in, but also responsible for the raising and protection of the would-be changeling child they have taken in. Christina Flynn's Perdita is bright and happy and a delight to watch during her scenes with Matt Andersen's Prince Florizell and the two disguised visitors.
Wesley Scott's Autolycus offers up comedic distraction that feels out of place in both the pastoral setting of Bavaria and the chilly lands of Silicia. It is a role that serves little purpose other than to scare the simpletons with the potential tyranny of their royal masters.
The women in the play are Shakespeare's paragons of virtue, for all of them are nearly flawless in either virtue, beauty, courage or devotion. The women of the 2011 Shakespeare company play them as such, creating women who have the strength to endure the madness of their men.
The Winter's Tale, often dubbed a "problem play," is neither tragedy nor comedy on the Michigan Shakespeare Festival stage. Rather, it is a drama that contrasts winter and spring and contends that there is a renewing magic that can be found in both.