Terrific theater has little to do with large budgets or even sizeable reputations ó witness the recent lackadaisical staging here of Richard III by the vaunted touring troupe the Acting Company. No, as the New Stage production of The Winterís Tale demonstrates while it hops to different venues around the state, if thereís plain old-fashioned talent, and plenty of it, other considerations quickly fade away.
Great theater is like great Italian cooking: assemble the best ingredients and just let them do their jobs. Actor Bob Colonna, wearing his directorís cap, and producer Cait Calvo and have gathered together some of the stateís most reliable off-Trinity regulars, and the result is another stunner from what in the last few years has become a company not to miss. (Under the name First Stage, they gave us productions that were far between but always impressive, such as The Caretaker and Not About Heroes.)
The Winterís Tale is Shakespeareís last tragicomedy, and by then the Bard knew to keep things simple. Motivations here are keenly emotional and the plot is merely a series of place markers on which to hang encounters alternately saddening and comical. We cry, then we laugh, then we shed happy tears.
Leontes, King of Sicilia (Nigel Gore), is graciously asking his boyhood friend Polixenes, King of Bohemia (Chris Perotti), to extend his visit longer. Since his hostís wife, Hermione (Paula Sorensen), whole-heartedly follows suit, the guest complies. Big mistake. During freeze-frame asides to us, Leontes growls and rants over how his wife and friend have been whispering and "kissing with inside lip," and that Polixenes "wears her like a medal about his neck."
Leontesís counselor Camillo (Mike Zola) canít dissuade him, so he agrees to poison the guest. But instead he spills the beans and flees with Polixenes and his fleet. Enraged, Leontes orders his wife executed and his newborn daughter set on a hillside for wild animals or fate to attend to. Of course, when the action switches to Bohemia 16 years later, daughter Perdita (Gaby Sherba) is being raised in bucolic innocence and courted by an equally oblivious son of King Polixenes, Florizel (Mauro Canepa). You see where this tale is heading.
Not only are there no weak links in this production ó even 10-year-old Angus Gore, Nigelís son, delivers the goods ó but every actor has a standout scene or two. There isnít room here to give all credit thatís due, just some highlights.
Framing the jollity of the middle portion of the story, Goreís ebbing and flowing anger as Leontes is a marvel, as the king keeps re-inflaming himself with spoken thoughts of unjustified jealousy. Director Colonna cannily makes it hard for us to dismiss him as a despot, since Leontes allows one of the women at court not only to speak her mind, as Shakespeare has her do, but also to whup the king upside the head several times as she berates him. Kate Ambrosini is delightful but also grounded in the anguish of the situation, as the feisty noblewoman Paulina.
In addition to several songs Shakespeare provides, charmingly set to music by Nancy Rosenberg, and classy costumes by Tina Shea and Joy Thibodeau, the play is decorated further by a couple of comic set pieces. As the rascally cutpurse Autolycus, Rudy Sanda flounces about in newly gained courtier togs, cleverly conning a couple of rubes. Earlier, as one of them, Mark Carter brings down the house ó the only applause interruption opening night ó as he adds hilarious mime and sound effects to the description of a harrowing shipwreck that the country bumpkin has witnessed.
To me the most encouraging surprise of all this unfolding talent came from a newcomer. At her age, for Gaby Sherba to have the acting chops she displays in every scene as Perdita is a wonder to behold. To be able to continually convey the quicksilver inner changes of a character as well as she can is a skill that many seasoned actors never get the hang of. Sherba is a sophomore at Lincoln School. Go figure.
Mind you, everyone above was seen in the first night preview of a two-month run, where an occasional line wobbled and the floor of the rudimentary Firehouse Theater was puddled from a rainstorm. Still it was great. New Stage is presenting The Winterís Tale in Newport through February and in Pawtucket in March. If you love theater and in the future come across anybody who saw it while you missed it, youíre going to feel real silly, believe me.
Issue Date: February 20 - 26, 2004
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