Story: Leontes, king of Sicilia, suspects his pregnant wife Hermione of having an affair with his best friend, King Polixenes of Bohemia. He orders his assistant, Camillo, to poison Polixenes, but instead Camillo and Polixenes flee Sicilia. Leontes also demands that Hermione be imprisoned as a traitor, but the impartial Oracle declares that Hermione and Polixenes both are innocent. Leontes refuses to believe the Oracle, causing the death of his young son when he demands that Hermione be banished from the kingdom.
Hermione’s friend Paulina brings Hermione’s new baby girl to Leontes to show him that he is indeed the girl’s father, but he rejects her and demands that Paulina’s husband Antigonus abandon the infant in a forest. Antigonus takes the baby to a remote area, where she is found and raised by a shepherd. After 16 years pass, the girl known as Perdita falls in love with Polixenes’ son Florizel, who risks losing his inheritance by eloping with the ‘commoner.’ Polixenes and Camillo then pursue Florizel to Sicilia, where several surprising events occur.
Highlights: The Winter’s Tale is one of Shakespeare’s later efforts, with many historians saying it was written around 1610. It’s highly problematic in that it swerves from dark themes of jealousy, hatred and murder in the first act to a more jovial and celebratory conclusion that defies common sense.
Given that background, Mustard Seed Theatre has mounted a stylish if not always satisfying rendition that moves Sicilia and Bohemia to modern-day Seattle and the rustic elements of Alaska. Director Deanna Jent has culled a number of fine performances from stalwart cast members, including Richard Strelinger, Charlie Barron, Kelley Ryan and B. Weller, who help make the often tiresome journey at least somewhat appealing.
Other Info: Set designer Dunsi Dai paints fairly simple locales, with a towering obelisk of techno gadgets such as computer monitors and keyboards as Seattle’s homage to its modern-day god, while an old-fashioned Indian totem serves that purpose in the forests of Alaska. There’s a rectangular panel in the background that offers varying shots of the Seattle and Alaskan skylines, with differing illumination for the respective places courtesy of designer Michael Sullivan.
Costume designer JC Kracijek adorns the Sicilians in slick suits and dresses while the Bohemians are decked out in more traditional tribal attire. Zoe Sullivan provides some wonderfully evocative native American music in her sound design, while Julie Venegoni’s choreography includes a festive dance at a Bohemian sheep-shearing party (hey, it was all the rage).
Strelinger’s powerful command of The Bard’s lilting language resonates in his dynamic portrayal of the wronged Polixenes, while Barron and Weller are strong in their straightforward characterizations of the righteous Camillo and good-hearted Antigonus, respectively.
Chauncy Thomas is an imposing presence as the overbearing Leontes, although he seems to go over the top a bit too much as the play progresses. Ryan is fine as the upstanding Paulina, while Nancy Lewis looks and sounds the proper imperial part as the Oracle, here called The Raven, a teacher and trickster character from Tsimshian tales according to program notes. One wonders, however, how The Raven can be impartial since she is from Alaska, aka Bohemia.
There’s a delightful turn by Ethan Jones as the crazy-like-a-fox shepherd and Antonio Rodriguez has fun as his buffoonish son, Clown. Others in the sizable cast contributing laudable efforts are Wendy Greenwood as Hermione, Laurel Elliot as Perdita, Adam Moskal as Florizel, Richard Lewis, Sydney Frasure, Daniel Lanier, Julie Venegoni, Daniel Hodges, Jean Lang and Zoe Sullivan.
Many in the audience seemed genuinely enthralled and entertained throughout the two and a half-hour production, but I was less and less engaged as the show staggered to its welcome conclusion. Still, the play’s the thing, right?
Play: The Winter’s Tale
Group: Mustard Seed Theatre
Venue: Fine Arts Theatre, Fontbonne University, Wydown at Big Bend
Dates: April 19, 20, 21, 22, 26, 27, 28, 29
Tickets: $20-$25; contact 719-8060 or mustardseedtheatre.com
Rating: A 3.5 on a scale of 1-to-5.
Photos courtesy of John Lamb