Dawn Reader

Dawn Reader
from Open Door Coffee Co.; Hudson, OH; Oct. 26, 2016

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Back from the Bard, 2

Yesterday, I wrote about how Joyce and I saw a production of Shakespeare's The Winter's Tale at the Blackfriars Theater (a replica--though smaller--of the indoor theater that Shakespeare's company used in London late in the Bard's career). As is my wont, I rambled and never really said anything about Winter's Tale, so that's today's task ...

I mentioned yesterday that, until recently, The Winter's Tale was one of the final two remaining of the plays of Shakespeare that Joyce and I had not seen onstage. But now--as I wrote--we've seen it several times because companies, for some reason (could it be the play is good?!?!), have begun producing it again.

Quick plot summary: two kings (of Bohemia, of Sicilia) have been friends since boyhood; Bohemia is visiting Sicilia (has been there quite a while); Bohemia says it's time to go home; Sicilia begs him not to; Bohemia is adamant; Sicilia enlists his (pregnant) wife to intercede; she does; Bohemia says he'll stay; Sicilia goes all Othello (jealous, murderous), begins imagining/believing that the child his wife is carrying is not his but Bohemia's; Sicilia orders the murder of his old friend, but old friend gets a warning and flees; grrrrr; Sicilia shames his wife in public, accuses her of infidelity, confines her to prison; when the child is born, Sicilia refuses to accept that it's his and orders the infant (a girl) tossed in the fire, relents (a bit), orders it abandoned in a remote place; when word comes from the oracle at Delphi that Sicilia has been totally wrong, he refuses to accept Apollo's decision; oops: his young son and wife die; oops; now he realizes he's been wrong; too bad and too late; an aide has taken the infant to a remote place (Bohemia!), has abandoned it, then runs offstage in a moment described in the best stage direction in Shakespeare ("Exit, pursued by a bear."); he doesn't exit fast enough, though; the bear catches and eats him (offstage!); a shepherd finds the baby; adopts it.

Sixteen years pass; baby has grown into gorgeous young woman, pursued (not by a bear) but by--surprise!--the son of Bohemia; the king goes into disguise to see what his son's been up to--He's courting a shepherd's daughter! NO WAY!--he orders his son to cease and desist--NO WAY!--son and gf flee to ... Sicilia, where the penitent king welcomes them (not realizing they've fled against Bohemia's wishes, not realizing, of course, the young woman is his daughter); Bohemia pursues the couple; we're back where we started; the kings reconcile, and then one of the most amazing moments in Shakespeare ...

I think I'll hold off on the "one of the most amazing moments in Shakespeare" for the nonce. I've left out a couple of the subplots in the little summary above. (Look them up; read the play; whatever.)

The production in Staunton, as I wrote yesterday, was pretty much Elizabethan--low, continuous light; simple costumes; no scenery; few props; music before and during the show; playfulness of the players (they often interacted with audience members, about a half-dozen of whom were sitting on the stage at far Right and far Left); actors (even the principals) playing more than one role.

And they were terrific--as was the Bear. I've seen this done numerous ways--from minimal costuming to maximal. This was more the latter. Full Bear. With an actor who had practiced ursine movements and looked really convincing. At the intermission, the Bear (sans Bear head) was one of the singers. And he could more than ... barely ... sing. He was good.

The director and the players found some funny stage business to do at times. Grabbing a guy with a shepherd's crook, crawling around on the floor in hopes you won't be noticed, suddenly switching from an Elizabethan dance number (at a shepherds' party) and doing a raucous version of "Thank God I'm a Country Boy"--link to YouTube of John Denver singing his famous song).

Sometimes (usually? always?)  I'm bothered when Shakespeare directors are so fearful of losing a modern Twittery, Facebooky, texty audience that they fill the show with contemporary music and references (adding lines to the Bard's!), but I liked this because it was so unexpected--and so fitting--and so unique (it did not happen again).

Also very amusing was Bohemia's disguise at the party (see above), when he was spying on his son. He'd donned a silvery wig, affected a hunch, and tried to act sage and neutral--until it became very clear that his son was with the young girl (Perdita). Then ... all pretensions disappeared and he roared as only a parent disappointed in a child can roar.

One rendering of Autolycus
Also well done--a subplot involving the small-time conman, Autolycus (ought to like us?), who cuts purses and lies and steals throughout. But things don't work out well for him.

And now, it seems, I've written so much that I'm going to have to delay till tomorrow the "amazing moments" stuff ...

To be continued ...

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