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Summering With The Winter's Tale

Idaho Shakespeare Festival Struggles with Classic Work


The Winter's Tale, Idaho Shakespeare Festival's penultimate 2012 production, blows hot and cold but ultimately can't find a temperate landing. The title The Winter's Tale was presumably inspired by 1590's The Old Wives Tale, which promised "a merry winter's tale." But this production is far from merry--it's a chilly disappointment in a season that saw the sublime (Romeo and Juliet) and the sublimely ridiculous (The Imaginary Invalid).

This staging of The Winter's Tale was a bit like watching an electrocardiogram, with its peaks of mercurial temperament. The usually fine David Anthony Smith as Leontes rushes too quickly to his outbursts instead of allowing his character's emotions to infect his temperament. Leontes' jealousy, not unlike Othello's but absent Iago to stir the emotional pot, requires much more nuance. Audiences should be trusted to understand Leontes' obsession rather than force-fed his rage. Smith, trying so hard in his exposition, reduces his Leontes to a cliche.

Unfortunately, this production pushes and pulls its players through much hand-wringing in a fairly disjointed first act, and then returns with a frivolous second act that feels like an entirely different play.

The Winter's Tale has proven a test of strength for many a classical troupe, and it traditionally reveals weak spots in a company's roster. But here, the blame must be laid at the feet of director Jesse Berger, an accomplished craftsman who has helmed lauded productions across the nation. Berger has left his otherwise superb cast adrift; his characters are defined by their emotions rather than their motivations. As a result, a greater wedge is driven between the play and its audience.

But there is good news in Laurie Birmingham's beauteous effort as Paulina. Birmingham, who gave an equally exciting performance as Juliet's nurse in Romeo and Juliet earlier this season, earns an extra bouquet for her fire-and-brimstone Paulina--tempered by guile and heartbreak--something terribly lacking in other corners of this production. Additionally, Tom Ford as Autoyclus--who provides some second-act comic relief--is tops.

The production's stagecraft can also be trumpeted: David Barber's scenic design and Sara Tosetti's costumes are superb. But this two-hour, 45-minute production is the sum of its parts and too many elements are wanting. At the conclusion of the first act, the god Apollo expresses his dissatisfaction with the proceedings with angry bolts of lightening. I couldn't agree more with his sentiment.