The Winter’s Tale – Bard Day’s Night
Baltimore Shakespeare Factory performs in the perfectly ¾ thrust configuration of a Stratford-upon-Avon style theater in The Great Hall Theatre at St. Mary’s Community Center. This is my first time seeing a BSF show, so I came with an open mind, ready to receive the dulcet tones of the muse.
This production of The Winter’s Tale is performed Original Pronunciation or “OP”. Lots of the folks in the audience and the cast say “OP” as if they are part of some special club of which I don’t yet have my membership card. There’s a bit of a learning curve with this type of performance, so a lovely curtain speech sorts out what we can expect to hear and why the company is executing work in this fashion. BSF, upon further inspection, presents their Shakespeare like they’re actually back in the day. Flat front lighting with no color and no cues, no set, period costumes, and in this particular case, period dialogue inflection It is like they are trying to make go’old William’s work even more inaccessible. I’m nervous as the show starts, but excited for a new adventure.
The Winter’s Tale is historically billed as one of Will’s (I’m calling him Will now, we’re close like that) comedies, though many contemporary scholars place it in the category of romance and I find the story more romantic than, like, LOL funny, but whatev.
Over a brief visit from childhood friend King Polixenes (Terry O’Hare), King Leontes (Chris Cotterman) begins to think that his preggers wife Queen Hermione (Valerie Dowdle) and his buddy are secret lovers. Scandal! Furious, Leontes attempts to poison Polixenes but the plot is foiled, and old King P escapes the land. Leontes talks shit about his beautiful wife, accusing her of adultery, and imprisons her for her alleged crimes. Eventually, Hermione gives birth to her child Perdita (Kathryn Zoerb) and attempts to re-win the King’s favor by giving the baby to a friend, Paulina (Mariann Gazzola Angelella) to show to Leontes to soften his heart. This works! Oh, wait, no, it totally doesn’t, it actually pisses him off completely and he disowns the child. A whole bunch of shakey-spear stuff happens, the heartbroken queen Hermione dies, the town Oracle reveals that the two suspected lovers are innocent and Perdita grows up and gets married herself to a !surprise! courtier. King Leontes is shown a beautiful statue of his beloved deceased wife which, miraculously, comes to life. They are reunited, and it feels so good. (#TheEnd)
So this is Will’s work. Complex, convoluted, and there are a ton of characters (28!) played by just 12 actors. The whole “OP” thing kind of threw me for a loop, TBH. At first, I felt like part of it and tried to play along, but after the first hour, I was exhausted from listening so hard for the words I could understand. Some actors were better at the OP than others (to give all credit, it sounds like some hard-ass shit) and several individuals were playing multiple characters with different versions of the OP dialect.
Directed by James Keegan, this work, though stagnant at times (but which of Will’s works aren’t!?) mostly kept moving. The cast was well assembled and most of the choices, including some of the gender-shifting, worked quite well. Stars on this stage were Brendan Kennedy (Florizel, Servant #1, Mariner) and, bonus, he was oh-so-dead-sexy to look at, and Jess Behar as our over-the-top host for the pre-show (also Autolicus, Gaoler, Officer). Chris Cotterman clearly has the chops and is another stunning male specimen, to boot. Marianne Gazzola Angelella also turned in a fine performance as Paulina and, uh, Time. At times, there was some very heavy overacting, but it’s The Bard, that’s the way it goes. Costumes by April Forrer were true gems, though I’m a little done with everything looking like it was straight off the production line. Some of those costumes should look a bit more worn. Oh! And the amazing bear puppet by Zac Lawhon was impeccable, and I wish it got more stage time.
The Bottom Line: Overall I think you’d be hard-pressed to find a Shakespearean company in Baltimore working as hard, and as thoughtfully, as Baltimore Shakespeare Factory. Their scholarly work is commendable (talk-backs with all sorts of relevant folks after almost every production), tackling the OP thing is cool (and takes months and months of rehearsal from what I hear), bringing in super-duper actors and directors to perform classical style gets points in my book. But the one glaring thing I cannot possibly walk away from without mention: this Shakespeare does not seemed designed for the general public. It’s hard to make this stuff seem more inaccessible, but somehow BSF kind of does. I myself would rather see stunning contemporary Shakespeare…but that’s not what this company makes, and, you know what? That’s okay. You do you, BSF!
Running at Baltimore Shakespeare Factory until April 24th
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