No, no, no, this post isn’t about the Mark Helprin novel, the one that was made into a movie, which debuted last weekend for Valentine’s Day (and earned a very depressing 15 percent approval rating on RottenTomatoes). No, no.
This post is about Shakespeare’s play, “A Winter’s Tale.” I know I usually talk about children’s books in my Off the Shelf posts, but I want to deviate a bit today and tell you about this fantastic play I saw this weekend!
The Old Globe, a lovely theater venue located in Balboa Park here in San Diego, debuted its production of “A Winter’s Tale” this past weekend, and the hubs took me for V-day!
I’m not going to lie. This play was an expensive nap for my sweet husband (he’s more of a musical kind of guy). But, for me, it was an adventure filled with wonder. I really enjoyed the whole thing, although I’m not very familiar with this particular story. The Old Globe does a really great job creating an atmosphere. The sets, costumes, and performers are top-shelf.
If, like me, you’re not familiar with “A Winter’s Tale,” I’ll give you a little peek!
It’s about Leontes, the king of Sicily, and his wife, Hermione, who is expecting their second child. The two already have a young son. Here’s the basic set they used for Sicily. Very elegant and formal. Streamlined. Boxy. Clean. New York.
Polixenes, the king of Bohemia, is visiting Leontes’ palace, and Leontes gets it in his head that Hermione is cheating with Polixenes, and the child she’s carrying is a bastard. Here is Leontes’ aside, where he confides his suspicion to the audience. Check out the ominous neon lighting in the background.
Leontes has no facts to back his claim, except his gut feeling, but he has Hermione arrested nonetheless. Leontes is called a “tyrant,” like, at least three dozen times. Nobody believes that Hermione is guilty, and they think Leontes has been driven mad by jealousy. Leontes rants and raves and hollers and threatens till everyone is terrified of him.
Things go from bad to worse.
Leontes sends two of his courtiers to the oracle at Delphi to see whether or not Hermione is telling the truth. Meanwhile, Hermione gives birth in prison, and Paulina, a kind Sicilian noblewoman and friend to Hermione, takes the baby and brings it to Leontes to, hopefully, soften him up. But he literally tries to kill the infant, thinking it’s the symbol of his cuckolded household. He tasks Antigonus, Paulina’s husband, with taking the child to a distant land and leaving it there to fend for its tiny self.
Then Shakespeare really starts heaping on the tragedy. Leontes arranges a hearing for his wife. See her below in her orange jumpsuit/gown. They bring forth an old-fashioned tape recording of the Delphic oracle’s voice (a very slick modification), which declares Hermione innocent. Leontes still doesn’t believe it and questions the oracle’s divinity. In quick succession, his son and Hermione perish, and then FINALLY Leontes sees reason and repents.
Quick scene change, and we’re on the shores of Bohemia, where Antigonus is abandoning the little princess, per the king’s orders. It’s stormy and raining and there is lightning (which the Globe portrayed by dropping strands of exposed light bulbs from the ceiling — awesome!). Antigonus leaves some money and trinkets in the baby’s bassinet, which prove her identity in case she’s found.
Then comes the most famous part of the play. Shakespeare inserts the stage direction: “Exit, pursued by a bear.” Did Shakespeare use a real bear or a guy in a bear costume? Well, the Globe opted for three guys in partial bear costumes. It worked. Every time Antigonus’s death is mentioned, it’s funny. I think it’s hilarious that we can’t seem to take it seriously. I mean, he was eaten by a BEAR!
Anyway, a kindly shepherd and his son (named Clown) find the babe and provide some much-needed comic relief.
Intermission. When we come back, it’s like a totally different play. Sixteen years have passed (and the Globe uses a chorus of metronomes to symbolize the time passing — it’s wonderful). We’ve exited Shakespeare’s court world and entered the green world. We’re in Bohemia, where woodland people frolic and dance and make merry. The old shepherd raises the princess as his own daughter and calls her, aptly, Perdita. They’re having a sheep-shearing party, and they’ve invited all the neighbors.
Perdita is hopelessly in love with Florizel, the son of Polixenes, the king (remember him? The guy Leontes accused of sleeping with Hermione?).
The gal who plays Perdita is so adorable I wanted her to be my best friend. We meet some funny characters who sing and make us laugh, and we think all is well.
But Polixenes isn’t happy with his son’s secret love affair and he breaks it up. The two lovers flee to Sicily, where Perdita learns she’s the lost princess, kind of like Rapunzel in “Tangled.” Just kidding. Polixenes follows them, and once he finds out that Perdita is a princess, he’s totally OK with Florizel marrying her. He and Leontes kiss and make up.
We see Hermione again, too, but I’ll leave you with at least one surprise.
Anyway, the Globe’s production was great, and I’d recommend it to anyone, but I warn you that the story itself is kind of confusing. You spend much of the time wondering whether you should laugh or cry. Is it a comedy? A tragedy?
I noticed that the audience wasn’t clapping as much as I wanted them to. Sometimes, the scene would change and there would be no clapping in between. It was so weird. I think that might be because people are confused by how they’re supposed to feel.
Anyhow, it raises interesting questions about the nature of tyranny and betrayal. If you’re in the area, go see it. Plus, if you’re a “Once and Again” or “Helix” fan, you’ll get up close and personal with Billy Campbell, who does a terrific job as Leontes.
QUESTION OF THE DAY
Do you like Shakespeare, or does he make your brain hurt?