Arts & Culture

Modernized ‘Winter’s Tale’ triumphs at Trinity Rep

Contributing Writer
Friday, October 19, 2012

Rarely does one have the opportunity to see a dozen Shakespearean actors – all clad in bear masks – launch into a synchronized dance mob around a baby onstage to the tune of “Outta Your Mind” by Lil Jon. Yet director Taibi Magar MFA’14 grants the audience this zany opportunity and many more in her youthful adaptation of William Shakespeare’s “The Winter’s Tale,” which opens tonight at the Trinity Repertory Company.
“I think it’s Shakespeare’s most playful text,” Magar said. “Magic and surprise are written into the text.”
The quintessential tragicomedy propounds both psychological tragedy and bawdy humor. The first three acts recount the story of how the misplaced jealousy of King Leontes of Sicilia tears his family apart, and the final two acts track his redemption.
The contemporary adaptation opens on a crude wooden stage framed by gossamer curtains, keeping the focus on Leontes and his internal crisis. Behind him, supporting actors intensify his monologues by their rhythmic drumming on overturned orange buckets. As the lights go up, a winged girl in green harem pants – the Oracle of Delphi – shoots out from beneath the table onstage and assumes her post on a lighted scaffolding beside the stage, where she remains and observes for much of the play.
While the unfinished stage seems raw at the beginning, all props and curtains are stripped from their boards by intermission, reflecting how everything Leontes treasured has disappeared in some capacity. This dismantling marks the end of act three, where a broken Leontes sobs alone in fetal position in the center of the stage.
“Taibi has a clear, specific, and passionate vision – it’s hard not to feel comfortable with her direction,” said Elise LeBreton MFA’14, who plays Hermione, Queen of Sicilia.
Taibi manipulated the flexibility of the Pell Chafee Performance Center, an intimate space that can integrate the audience into the performance. Mimed scenes occur throughout the performance either on the sidelines, behind the gauzy curtains or even behind the audience’s seats. Actors toy with the audience members, prolonging eye contact during monologues, running by the seats in bear costume and even offering a member of the audience a red Solo cup during a party scene.
In a climactic merging of the set and play, Leontes attempts to murder his newborn baby girl with a sandbag he seizes from the base of the curtains.
Taibi’s triumph manifests in the stirring relationships her direction creates in a work that is often considered one of Shakespeare’s “problem plays” due to its structural imperfections. She cut more than 45 percent of the original text, reducing the play’s original running time of over three-and-a-half hours to a reasonable length.
Shakespeare’s famous stage direction ‘Exit, pursued by bear’ appears in the climactic Act 3, Scene 3.
“Most people think, ‘oh shit, that’s the play with the bear and the statue that comes to life,'” said Carisa Platt MFA’14, who portrays the noblewoman Paulina. “For me, it’s not about the wackiness or the fairy tale or ‘exit by bear.’ It’s about a family that comes apart. I think there are so many opportunities to tell a story – a story of family, betrayal and forgiveness.”
Performed exclusively by second-year students in the MFA program, the ensemble was cohesive and strong, featuring gripping emotional performances by Ben Chase MFA’14 (Leontes) and LeBreton in their roles as the King and Queen of Sicily.
Other highlights include the distinct performances of Sylvia Kates MFA’14, who performs as both the boy prince Mamillius and the abandoned princess Perdita. Kates transforms herself unrecognizably from a slobbering, twitchy kid to a coquettish young lady better than her costume change ever could.
Zdenko Martin MFA’14 also inspires much of the charm of the production in his portrayal of the mischievous charlatan Autolycus, stealing the show as well as assorted clothing items, gold coins and a fanny pack. Martin composed the original score for the production, often serenading the audience with his guitar during transitions between scenes.
“It’s amazing that these people are great actors and musicians, but composers? And the music was made for this play, these people, this space,” Platt said.
The diverse musical score was a high point of the show, ranging from folk songs to Prince. “I like to think of the music as fresh and resonant,” Taibi said.
Taibi’s love for this unique play is salient to the cast and audience of her adaptation. “The real thing is, she loves this play. Her love is infectious – you can’t help but get excited. She’s so jazzed about it,” Platt said. With Trinity’s compelling production, audiences will no doubt share Taibi’s excitement.
“The Winter’s Tale” runs through Oct. 21 in the Pell Chafee Performance Center at Trinity Rep.

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