October 11, 1979
Here; Shakespeare for All Seasons at Arena
THE WINTER'S TALE, by William
Shakespeare. Directed by David Chambers; setting by Tony Straighes; costumes by
Carol Oditz; lighting by Arden Fingerhut. With Stanley Anderson, Barbara
Sohmers, Mark Hammer, Caitlin Clarke, Kenneth Ryan, Mark Lin-Saker (sic) and
Richard Bauer. At Arena Stage through Nov. 11.
Word has it has Arena Stage is facing a
small cost-overrun crisis over Carol Oditz's spectacular costumes for "The
If the management is looking for a way to
push the problem under the rug, here are several fiscally irreresponsible
Count a portion of the costume budget as
scenery. When the play moves from the Sicilian court to the Bohemian
hinterland, after all, what we normally regard as scenery changes not one
whit. Instead, it is the change of costumes -- from furtrimmed royal coats
and knee -- high black boots to sheepskins and and sandals and rainbow-colored
barbarian wraps -- that transports us, emotionally as well as geographically.
Or, if the scenery budget is already
exhausted -- as it might well be by Tony Straiges' magnificent white terrazzo
disk of a stage with its translucent plastic banquet table and its rim of
columns of glowing light -- why not simply call this two productions instead of
one? "The Winter's Tale is, after all, almost two plays -- a
variation on "Othello," with a noble leader and his household ruined
by insane jealousy, and then after a break of 16 years, a pastoral comedy with a
disobedient prince wooing a shepherd's daughter who is truly a princess.
Or if two productions are not enough to
account for the expense of these troublesome costumes, Arena could count this as
a whole year's worth of theater since "The Winter's Tale" encompasses
all the seasons of the year, beginning with the mirth of summer and circling
through aching fall and grim winter back to the reaffirmation of spring.
To be fair to director David Chambers and
his aides, "The Winter's Tale," if it is to be done at all, is an
invitation to extravagance. It is also an invitation to directorial
ingenuity. This "winter's Tale" has been blessed with both.
Some theatergoers will undoubtedly prefer
those plays of Shakespeare's that submit more readily to 20th-century
psychological scrutiny. King Leontes' rage springs, to all appearances,
out of nowhere, with no Iago egging him on, his jealousy seems as unaccountable
as, say, snow in the second week of October.
But "the Winter's Tale" is also
one of Shakespeare's most rhetorically luscious plays, and here the rhetoric is
strong and lucid, thanks to the sort of clear direction that is worth a thousand
footnotes. Even when the acting is artificial -- and it is annoyingly so
in patches -- the lines are uttered with a refreshing attention to what they
Richard Bauer, looking like a walking
yard-goods sale and caressing every vowel and consonant, makes a wonderful
rapscallion as Autylocus, one of Shakespeare's most engaging rogues. Like
the production as a whole, Bauer's performance combines physical flair with
simple good sense.
As the Old Shepherd, Robert Prosky greets
the discovery of Perdita -- leontes' abandoned baby daughter -- with a
splendidly simple air of gratitude. Along with Mark Linn-Baker's delivery
of Perdita's discourse on clean unaffected portrayal of Prince Florizel and
Caitlin Clark's rapturous flowers, Prosky's performance makes a major
contribution to the effectiveness of the whole Bohemian half of the play.
But another unexpected factor is the
raucous and genuinely festive singing and dancing. Most directors regard
Shakespeare's forest merrymaking as an unpleasant interruption in the action --
a bit of business to be subcontracted out to some half-witted
choreographer. If the absence of a choregraphy credit means that Chambers
is the responsible party, it is to his considerable credit.
The tragic, Sicilian half of this
"Winter's Tale," unfortunately, is less engrossing than the rebirth
that follows -- and the blame for that lies in part with Chambers, too.
Some of his visual notions exact an unacceptable price in loss of pace.
And some of the blame lies with Stantely
Anderson as Leontes. There are stirring but also ponderous passages in
Anderson's performance, and -- despite a tendency elsewhere to stretch things
out too long -- his repentance comes about with baffling suddenness. He
has scarcely had time to realize that his son is dead and his queen dying before
he has read these events as divine vengeance and is disavowing three acts' worth
of mad accusations.