Shakespeare’s “The Winter’s Tale,” presented by Annapolis Shakespeare Company and directed by Sally Boyett, is now playing at the Gardens at the historic Charles Carroll House in Annapolis. Just walking on the grounds is a treat. You will want to get out your camera not only to take photos of the historic home and beautiful landscaping but spectacular views of the harbor as well.
The play itself is one of The Bard’s later pieces. A winter’s tale was synonymous to an old wives’ tale. It is unique in that it is really two very different plays. The first half is a tragedy. The King of Sicilia. Leontes (Dexter Hamlett), is friends with the King of Bohemia, Polixenes (Matthew Lynch). When the Bohemian royal visits Sicily, he and the Leontes become great friends. Not wanting him to leave, the King of Sicilia begs his wife, Hermione (Laura Rocklyn), to find a way to keep his friend, now homesick for his own family, with them a while longer. When she succeeds, Leontes becomes suspect that they are having a tryst which they are not.
The Sicilian King calls his counsel, Camillo (Craig Allen), and tells him to poison his former friend. Camillo and the Polixenes escape to royal’s homeland. Jealousy twists the Sicilian King’s mind – think “Othello” – and when Hermione becomes pregnant, he not only accuses her of carrying the King of Bohemia’s child, he throws her in jail and threatens to have her executed. His refusal to temper his anger, even when warned by an oracle, brings about the apparent death of Prince Mamillius (Amber James), his young son, and the Queen. Right before this, he tells another in his court, Antigonus (John Pruessner) to take the baby girl born to the Queen in prison, abandon her and let her die from exposure. This first part ends with the little princess being left to the elements while Antigonus is chased by a bear. (The bear chase is actually interesting because it was one of Shakespeare’s few written stage directions.)
As heavy and tragic as the first half is, the second half is as comical, almost farcical. The two actors who portrayed the Leontes and Hermione now become part of the comic relief as a rogue, Autocylus (Hamlett), and a Clown (Rocklyn), really the son of the Shepherd (Pruessner) who finds the baby and raises her. Time has passed and the baby now is old enough to find love, and in typical Elizabethan theatrical fashion, she falls in love with the King of Bohemia’s son, Florizel (Matthew Provenza).
While the Shepherd, the Clown and Autocylus are like watching the Three Stooges, the King of Bohemia provides his own silliness when he tries in disguise to end his son’s romance to Perdita (Katherine Burns). All think Perdita is just a shepherdess, but she is really the Princess. The young couple flee back to Sicily, and of course, meet with the distraught Leontes. No one knows who Perdita is until the Shepherd reveals the contents of a box that he found with her that tell of her lineage. Even Hermione makes a comeback. (Note: I am not doing a spoiler here as the plot synopsis is part of the program.)
Frankly, I was not familiar with ‘The Winter’s Tale,’ but after watching this production, it has become one of my Shakespearean favorites. Watching it from these beautiful surroundings made it even more magical. Go to Historical Annapolis, watch the boats, and enjoy some excellent summer theatre.
Hamlett as Leontes displays the power of jealousy in the Scene when he exposes his paranoia to Camillo. Later, he meets with Paulina (Charlotte Harvey), a friend of Hermione and wife of Antigonus. In this Scene, Paulina begs for mercy for her friend and the newborn. This is one of the highlights of these actors’ performance as those characters. (All the actors play multiple roles.)
Rocklyn convincingly conveys the anguish of the tragic Hermione. Lynch reflects the confusion Polixenes most feel when his friend turns on him so suddenly. Allen does well in both halves of the play as Camillo. Burns as Perdita and Provenza as Florizel have great chemistry as the young lovers.
In the second half Hamlett’s portrayal of the rogue, Autocylus, is unexpected and hysterical. Rocklyn’s Clown is a great simpleton. The two have a scene when the rogue steals the Clown’s money and clothing right off his back. The timing is wonderful. Pruessner is also quite humorous as the flummoxed Shepherd.
James as Mamillius and Dorcas, Elle Sullivan as A Lord, Lady in Waiting, and Mopsa also can take a bow for exemplary performances.
Most of this is due to the fine direction of Sally Boyett. It is hard to change the pace so radically and make it seamless, but she does. Many of the physical comedy in the second half is due to crafty staging.
Boyett also did the costuming which was traditional Elizabethan. As there is minimal stage design due to the venue, the costuming provides a great deal of the color and mood of the production. I don’t know what Boyett’s trick is, but the night I saw it was hot and humid. The actors with all that fabric were barely perspiring. The director also responsible for the Sound Design which includes some lively music and thunder, as well as baby and animal sounds.
The first half takes place in sunlight but Adam Mendelson’s lighting design after twilight technically enhances the performance.
Frankly, I was not familiar with “The Winter’s Tale,” but after watching this production, it has become one of my Shakespearean favorites. Watching it from these beautiful surroundings made it even more magical. Go to Historical Annapolis, watch the boats, and enjoy some excellent summer theatre. But, don’t leave your trash. There might be bears.
Running Time: Two Hours with an Intermission
William Shakespeare’s “The Winter’s Tale” is playing July 11-28, Thursdays-Sundays at 7:30 PM at The Charles Carroll House, 107 Duke of Gloucester, Annapolis, MD 21401. Limited parking is available. For more information about the Annapolis Shakespeare Company go online to their website. For information on “The Winter’s Tale” go online. To purchase tickets for this production, go online.
Note: No bears or babies were injured during this production.
Please check Susan Brall’s ‘A Quick 5’ with actor Matthew Provenza on this website.