Review: THE WINTER’S TALE

by Lynn on August 27, 2019

in The Passionate Playgoer

At Withrow Park, Toronto, Ont.

Written by William Shakespeare

Directed, dramaturged and choreographed by Sarah Kitz

Adapted by Sarah Kitz and Andrew Joseph Richardson

Scenography by Claire Hill

Lighting by Jareth Li

Sound design, composer and lyrics by Maddie Bautista

Props designed by Isabel Martins

Cast: Andrea Carter

Jason Gray

Jani Lauzon

Eponine Lee

Richard Lee

Tiffany Martin

Kaitlyn Riordan

Giovanni Spina

Sarah Kitz directs a lively, energetic production that uses the space wonderfully well, but has a concept that includes extra speeches that are not supported by the play. Troubling. 

The Story. (This will be long to give a sense of what is going on here.)  The Winter’s Tale is about the damages caused by irrational jealousy and about love. It’s about King Leontes of Sicilia and his pregnant wife Hermione. (They also have a young son named Mamillius).  For the past nine months his boyhood friend King Polixenes of Bohemia has been visiting Sicilia and now wants to go home to his kingdom and family!! Leontes wants him to stay but Polixenes gently tells him he has to go home.  Leontes asks Hermione to ask their friend to stay. She does and Polixenes agrees to stay a bit longer after she entreats him. Leontes is upset because Polixenes refused him but agreed when Hermione asked him to stay. From then on Leontes’ jealousy is in full bloom. He believes that Hermione and Polixenes are having an affair and the unborn baby is really Polixenes’. Leontes orders Hermione to be imprisoned. She knows this behaviour is not like him and says: …”how will this grieve you, When you shall come to clearer knowledge, that You thus have published me!”  He also sends minions to seek the advice of the Oracle.

 

In the meantime Leontes orders his servant Camillo to kill Polixenes. Camillo argues with his boss but eventually agrees because Leontes rails at Camillo. Camillo in turn warns Polixenes of the plan and they both escape to Bohemia.

It goes from bad to worse. Hermione delivers a baby girl she names Perdita (lost). Paulina a member of the court brings the baby to Leontes to try and convince him the baby is his daughter. He won’t hear of it. He orders Antigonus, another courtier, to kill the baby. Antigonus can’t do it and takes the baby to a desolate place with a case of money for whomever finds the baby. Antigonus then exits pursued by a bear (who also devours him). Two shepherds, a father and his son, find the baby and bring her up as their own.

In court the decree of the Oracle is read: “Hermione is chaste, Polixenes blameless, Camillo a true subject, Leontes a jealous tyrant, his innocent babe truly begotten, and the King shall live without an heir, if that which is lost be not found.”

Leontes still doesn’t believe Hermione is true. Then in quick succession: we learn that Mamillius has died because he misses his mother so much and is upset by what has happened. Hermione faints when she hears this and is presumed dead because Paulina says she is. Leontes is shaken from his jealousy and is now penitent.

Sixteen years later, in Bohemia. Perdita is in love with a young man and he with her. He is Florizell, son of King Polixenes but Perdita doesn’t know that. He is keeping it secret from her. His father and Camillo dress in disguise to check her out. They observe a ceremony when Florizell and Perdita promise each other to each other. Polixenes breaks up the proceedings because he can’t have his son, a prince, keeping company with a peasant girl. Florizell and Perdita escape to Sicilia pursued (not by a bear) but by Polixenes and Camillo.

When they arrive at Sicilia the truth is discovered. Perdita is Leontes long, lost daughter. Paulina shows the assembled a statue in the likeness of Hermione. Paulina will try and awaken Leontes faith. The statue moves and is warm to the touch when Leontes touches it, (“Oh, she’s warm!”).  Forgiveness, love, recognition, repentance. What was once lost is now found.

The Production. Withrow Park is a wonderful setting for The Winter’s Tale. The action takes place between “the two trees” just at the bottom of a gentle hill, down from the concrete building that houses the washrooms.

It’s directed by Sarah Kitz for whom I have tremendous respect. She negotiates her cast around the huge space of the park with efficiency and resourcefulness. And while much of the cast is not comfortable with the words or cadence of Shakespeare’s language, they make up for it with commitment and energy. Richard Lee plays Leontes initially as loving husband and father until he snaps into a jealous husband and wreaks terrible damage as a result. But just as quickly he is plunged into gut-twisting regret when he looses everything. Jani Lauzon is a fearless Paulina trying to make Leontes see the error of his ways. Young Eponine Lee is an impish Mamillius, an agile growling bear and forthright as Time.

For me Sarah Kitz’s previous directorial work has been clear, focused and realized the play. But with The Winter’s Tale I found her concept and interpretation of the play troubling.  In her program note she says that the play “explores patriarchy and the anxieties of inheritance…In the imaginary kingdoms of Sicilia and Bohemia, two Kings descend into paroxysms of destruction and anxiety, believing that their male lines of dynastic power are being corrupted by women.

For Leontes in particular, suspicion becomes fact at the speed of light and no ones thoughts but his own are necessary. The fairytale King defines the world. He is the law. This is what makes him so dangerous…there is an extraordinary possibility of redemption and reconciliation at the end of the story. In our contemporary telling, we strive to keep current with these gestures, looking for ways that we can move towards forgiveness and healing now.”

Wow.

I totally disagree with Ms Kitz’s thesis of the play being about patriarchy, men in power who are ruthless and the anxieties of inheritance because the play doesn’t support them. More concerning is that Kitz has added an astonishing speech by Hermione  to solidify her thesis. It’s the scene in which Hermione’s statue has come to life (‘Oh, she’s warm) and she tells Leontes that she hated him for what he did to her.  She  says she left the palace and wandered the world and saw women kept silent by strong men, objectified and suffered hurts and pain inflicted by strong men on women both weak and strong. If you have to add speeches to prove your thesis about the play then your thesis doesn’t work.

If Hermione is educated by her travels, why does she come back to the palace? Also after she is reunited with her daughter why does she hold out her hand to Leontes in forgiveness, even though the added speech does not suggest that? Her holding out her hand to him in forgiveness is not earned.

Comment. The Winter’s Tale is a problematic play for many reasons not the least of which is trying to figure out what got into Leontes, certainly since so many people in the court have a high opinion of him.  Everybody knows this behaviour is not like him, so thinking he’s a jealous tyrant doesn’t work. Hermione certainly knows as much when she says that he will grieve when he finds out how wrong he’s been. She says it with kindness.  What could be the problem? What is different this time? His wife is pregnant and he’s affected too!

If Leontes is so powerful and dangerous, then how come every time he gave an order: for Camillo to kill Polixenes or to Antigonus to kill the baby, they ignored him. Camillo runs off with Polixenes and Antigonus puts the baby in a desolate place with money for those who find her to take care of her. Paulina too rages at Leontes for what he has done and forces him to take a look at his daughter. And it was women (Paulina and Hermione)  kept Hermione hidden for 16 years and watched while Leontes, consumed with grief and regret, suffered for 16 years.

Nope, the play is not about the patriarchy raging, destroying and anxious about their dynasties. The play doesn’t support it. And I got a headache from gritting my teeth while  the concept and the added speech distorted the play to conform to that thesis. That pains me.

Shakespeare in the Ruff presents:

Began: Aug. 14, 2019.

Closes: Sept. 2, 2019.

Running Time: 2 hours approx.

www.ShakespeareInTheRuff.com

Leave a Comment