At the very end of William Shakespeare‘s The Winter’s Tale (on the Guthrie‘s Wurtele Stage, through March 27) the statue comes alive. Hermione lives! She embraces, and forgives, Leontes. Wow. It’s one of the most thrilling moments in the canon, but it immediately creates an issue: did the intensity of Leontes’s grief and longing bring the stone figure to life? Or was she alive all along, with Hermione and Paulina conspiring to have one over on the pathetic and hapless king?
Myself, I favor the first explanation, though I suspect that director Jonathon Munby would prefer the more realistic second. Whichever: this issue is one reason the play is often considered a “problem play.” This doesn’t mean that the play doesn’t work – good Lord, this is Shakespeare. It only means that aspects of the piece are, and will always be, controversial. Indeed, the “problem” adds spice to a play already astonishingly multi-layered.
Another “problematic” aspect of The Winter’s Tale is the odd combination of harsh drama (Acts 1-3) and brilliantly comic pastoral romance (Acts 4-5). Director Munby gleefully attacks this contradiction, juxtaposing a chilly and formal 1950s tragedy with the day-glo exuberance of the 1960s countryside. It all feels perfectly natural: horror followed by Bluegrass inflected guffaws.
Munby has built a gorgeous production. The psychopathic jealousy of Leontes, Hermione’s inspiring courage, the frantic efforts of his court to protect her newborn child, Perdita (one of Shakespeare’s greatest characters) in love with Florizel, Autolycus the pickpocket. Everything flows with exquisite logic.
And the acting. Got an hour? You don’t, and unfortunately HowWasTheShow doesn’t assign me nearly enough space to adequately wax lyrical about these performers. Much praise is due to Munby, who directs his first rate cast with intelligence and pitch-perfect timing. I guess I should note the excellent work of flying G stalwarts Stephen Yoakam, Helen Carey and Bob Davis, along with newcomers Michael Hayden and Michael Thomas Holmes. But, really, everyone delights.
As does the design. I especially admired Linda Cho‘s costumes. I won’t describe John Catron‘s hootingly funny costume bit, except to say that you shouldn’t miss it.
Indeed, The Winter’s Tale is a must-see. It’s long – 3+ hours – but amazing, one of the Bard’s great later works. If you have time, spend an hour with the text before you go. You’ll be glad you did.
For more information about John Olive please visit his website.