Henley Street Theatre and Richmond Shakespeare present: The Winter’s Tale

Take the sweet edge off of the holiday season with a little tragedy…mixed with comedy…mixed with just about everything else.

Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale isn’t your average holiday story. Back in the days of no bathing and no Netflix, “a winter’s tale” meant something to keep you occupied during the very long, cold nights–an over-the-top story packed with just about everything and liberally doused with hyperbole. Think of it as the fruitcake of tales (and have you ever had fruitcake? It is delicious and certainly unfairly maligned).

Well, I know a place where the nights are pretty dang long and cold. It’s Richmond, Virginia, back in the days of right now. And we don’t just have a winter’s tale at our disposal; we have THE Winter’s Tale. The combined forces of Henley Street Theatre and Richmond Shakespeare present a Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale at CenterStage, now through December 31.

It’s not the easiest of the Bard’s plays to put on, but it might be one of the most complicated. It begins as a tragedy, moves into a comedy, and then ends up almost in silliness — that’s a pretty big range of tone shifts to cover. Director James Ricks does a great job, maneuvering a sizable cast of beautifully costumed actors with obvious skill. Adrien Rieder’s heavy-browed, tortured (and torturing!) King Leontes quickly decides his queen, Hermione is having an affair. Not so! cries Hermione, played by a nicely penitent Laura Rocklyn, who goes from glowing to haggard admirably fast,* and the kingdom seems to be on her side. However, jealousy is a sickness, and that hapless lady’s days as a free woman are over. She’s got a baby on the way, though, and if you think a fat little babe is going to win over Leontes, you’re wrong. Into the wilderness she goes, helped along by the kindly Antigonus (Freddy Kaufman, who plays several roles in the production, some poignant, some hilarious).

Here are the questions I know you’re asking right now: What will happen to them all? Will it involve a giant, puppeteered bear?

Rest awhile, citizens, and while you’re resting, purchase tickets online (check out that New Year’s Eve special  — not too shabby). All set? Good.

Not quite all of the actors have mastered the talent of making Shakesperean language more accessible with their body language and tone. However, the most notable performance, for me, was Debra Clinton’s Paulina, who has no trouble making her lines very clear; as a result, a grateful audience hangs on her every word. Similarly, James Rees’s Autolycus had the house rolling, while Zoe V. Speas was promising as a sweet, blushing Perdita.

It’s easy to lose yourself in going back over the highlights of this show’s memorable performances, but one of the biggest factors that pushes this performance on The Winter’s Tale into the realm of success is the lighting design by Andrew Bonniwell. Against a neutral and very versatile drapey backdrop (what I assume is a nod to the Greekness of it all) the lights change the scenes from throne room, to prison, to desert, to party, all so seamlessly that you hardly notice. The first inkling of the lighting’s importance occurs when the house lights go up and you realize you’ve been looking at the same pieces of white cloth the whole time, even though you felt as if you’d spent those hours traveling through drastically different moods, tones, and terrain.

With all the holiday cheer to which I tend to over-commit, it was refreshing to hang out in the Gottwald Playhouse and think for a bit. To help refresh you further, Gottwald Playhouse sells wine, beer, sodas, and pastries, all of which you can take into the theater with you. And with resources like these two fine theatrical companies in our midst, it’s a good idea to support, support, support. (And also, Netflix doesn’t serve you wine and pastries.)

The Winter’s Tale runs on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays through New Year’s Eve. Tickets range from $15 to $36 dollars and can be purchased online. One caveat for the theatergoer: this is a fairly long play which may not be appropriate for children (mostly because they’ll be all “Awha?”).

*I myself have a short glowing-to-haggard window. It’s from about 12pm to 3pm, after which there’s no turning back.

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Susan Howson

Susan Howson is managing editor for this very website. She writes THE BEST bios.

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