Regional Reviews: St. Louis
The Winter's Tale
Also see Richard's review of Sweet Smell of Success
At the performance I attended of Shakespeare Festival St. Louis' The Winter's Tale, a gentleman nearby joked, "I don't understand a word of it, but I'm enjoying it!" The clarity of the diction and direction makes up for the odd bits of 400-year old verbiage that don't quite translate into the common parlance of 2017. Most of the time you don't even need the words, though they really do roll off the actors' tongues. But the most startling thing about The Winter's Tale is neither the general clarity nor the fact that the first act quickly turns into a mad witch-hunt, as Leontes, the King of Sicilia (excellent Charles Pasternak) dives down a rabbit-hole of suspicion against his wife Hermione (the adorable Cherie Corinne Rice), whom he accuses of adultery.
What's so startling is the whole second half, after intermission: it's a sunny comedyremoved from glowering Sicilia, to rustic Bohemia, along with its King Polixenes (dashing Chauncy Thomas), who's abruptly banished from Sicilia. A baby has been born to Leontes and Hermione back in that first half, coming exactly nine months after Polixenes first arrived there, thus helping provoke Leontes' suspicions. After that, Polixenes must flee, and Queen Hermione is reported to have passed on, apparently having been guilted to death. But right before that, she's given birth to a baby girl who must be spirited away to save her own tiny life. Andflash forwardit's 16 years later and we, too, arrive in Bohemia (now known as the Czech Republic).
The royal baby has grown into a simple shepherd's daughter (lovely Cassia Thompson as Perdita), and Polixenes himself has a teenaged son (handsome Pete Winfrey), who now spends all his time out in the countryside with the sheep (and with Perdita). Whit Reichert and Antonio L. Rodriguez are purely delightful as her loving father and brother. And one way and another, things are gently worked outto a romantic's delight.
Great work from Rachel Christopher as Paulina, pleading the accused queen's case so firmly and beautifully, and (as always) from Gary Glasgow, as a comical pickpocket and song-and-dance man. Two of our best-known regional stars, Anderson Matthews and Jerry Vogel, are also on hand to lend gravitas. And frankly, Mr. Matthews could recite the whole script by himself, alone in the spotlight. With his sweet, velvety voice, nobody would ever think of sneaking away.
But taken as a whole, it's a crazy excuse for a story: cruel jealousy before intermission, and a put-put golf course of silliness afterward. Maybe someday a grandly ridiculous actor like Rowan Atkinson will take on the role of Leontes, making him a comically jealous king. Then it will all make sense, Shakespeare's first three acts suddenly matching up with his act four and five's lighthearted tone at last. And that's when The Winter's Tale may become known as Shakespeare's great, unrecognized "French farce": coming in 1623, one year after the birth of Molière.
Through June 24, 2017, at Shakespeare Glen in Forest Park. For more information visit www.sfstl.com.
Cast (in order of appearance)
* Denotes member, Actors Equity Association
** Denotes member, USA Local 829, the professional association of Designers, Artists and Craftspeople