Review | A Winter’s Tale: something reeks of tyranny

Ten Thousand Things, through Nov 17; various venues (see note at end of review)

Steven Epp and Shá Cage in A WINTER’S TALE. Photo by Paula Keller.

This is an exciting time to be attending the theatre in the Twin Cities. With so many of our theatre companies changing their artistic directors—due mostly to retirements—a trip to the theatre becomes a journey of great expectations to see what our new talents are up to.

Rest easy, theatre mavens. Judging from new Artistic Director and choreographer Marcela Lorca’s production of The Winter’s Tale – William Shakespeare’s marvelous drama about love, jealousy and forgiveness, now at the Open Book in Minneapolis – Ten Thousand Things Theatre Company is in competent hands. Many signature aspects of TTT productions remain: the spare set pieces (by Nick Golfis), the quirky, mottled costumes, (well executed by Sonya Berlovitz) and the rhythmic licks by Peter Vitale, resident Music Director, are all on display. Lorca’s Winter Tale is also not shy about cutting lines, summarizing action and even dropping in a new line or two to condense the action.

Steven Epp, who has been at TTT before, leads the cast as King Leontes, the ruler of Sicilia who descends into near insanity when he imagines his wife is having an affair with the King of Bohemia (played by the inimitable James Craven). After decades of watching Epp on stage I saw a sharpness in his face that I have never seen before. In a Hitlerean haircut he rants and raves as the angry tyrant over-filled with twisted logic. Lorca stages these first scenes skillfully as Leontes tosses away his crown, rips off his royal collar and even hands over his goblet as he loses his grip on reality.

Known as a romance rather than a comedy or tragedy—today we might call it a dark comedy with a redemptive ending—the second half of Winter’s Tale is noticeably lighter as it moves to the countryside with scenes of a pickpocket’s shenanigans and a love story. Long time TTT ensemble member, Karen Wiese-Thompson delivers one of her very best performances as she shifts deftly from serious to comic to touchingly sincere, and displays a fine singing voice as well. Mo Perry, another TTT core member, does an extraordinary job in her dual roles. In the end, Hermione, King Leontes’ wife – in a nice turn by Shá Cage – and Leontes are reconciled in a very touching, and not easily staged, scene.

Lorca’s production is well balanced, never veering off into too much schtick meant to garner laughs just for the sake of laughs. The ensemble of players from top to bottom responds to the nuances in their speeches by quickly turning the emotional weight of a scene, effortlessly going from heavy to light, from sunny to dark and back again to sunshine.

Another welcome touch from Lorca are the songs written by JD Steele expressly for the show. Linked with Lorca’s choreography they spark both the opening scene and the center of the play to boost the action and keep the audience attentive.

Well played.

[Note: The Winter’s Tale moves to St Paul’s North Garden Theatre on October 31, and later on to Red Wing’s Sheldon Theatre. Check TTT website for details.]

 

 

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