An interesting Winter’s Tale opens Seattle Shakespeare Company season…

The Winter’s Tale, known in some circles as one of Shakespeare’s “problem plays”, is tackled mightily with some excellent acting, nice directorial touches and great production values and highlights at Seattle Shakespeare Company’s production running now until October 2, 2016. Tickets.

I quite agree with Managing Director John Bradshaw’s assessment of this play, which I overheard him say in a conversation going on behind me at intermission: “This is sort of Othello in the first act meets As You Like It in the second…”. He forgot to add: with entertaining ukulele music and the most comedic facial hair ever.

Brenda Joyner as Hermione is wonderful! Her movements, as the very “verily” pregnant wife of Leontes, are so amazingly true to life. Her dialog well done, her voice beautiful and good for Shakespeare’s iambic pentameter . She steals the show in the final act mostly by doing nothing…you will have to go to understand my meaning! The scenes with the full cast on stage are interesting as they establish acting styles that will run through the play in various characters and new ways. Especially good are: Mark Fullerton and Spencer Hamp, singly and as a dynamic duo. With the excellent work of MJ Sieber as Autolycus the second act takes off with clever bits, good delivery of Shakespeare’s double entendre and physical comedy. His energy and acting abilities arrive in time to lift the play out of the overdramatic and dire psychotic ranting’s of the first act.

There is much clever directing by Sheila Daniels. The set design by Tommer Peterson is inventive, evoking so many moods and scene settings with such simplicity! Harry Todd Jamieson’s sound design is very interesting and effective from the crashing thunder scenes, to the musically soft noises of the pastoral scenes and on to the rowdier carnival singing and dancing. The costumes are a mish mash of Elizabethan, present time, to the Nero jacket style of the 60’s and in-between. Done by Kelly McDonald it is interesting and creative. I liked it a lot! And, those snoods!

The cast of The Winter’s Tale. Photo by John Ulman.

The downfalls of this play are just two. First: its length (go prepared…it runs from 7:30 to after 10 with one intermission – Act I the worse transgressor); and, second: the great diversity between first and second act with a rather discombobulated story. This tragic/comedy wraps it all up almost too neatly in an “all’s well that ends well” way.

The first act is didactic and not well-blocked and lags as a result; especially, after the lovely opening with lantern lights and voices singing Gregorian chant like music (and has nice variations of this running throughout the play). Lead Darragh Kennan, as Leontes, a very earnest role model for insane jealously, does quite a job of ranting and raving upstage center. For me, it was played too over-dramatically and without enough subtlety to garner much patience for this character who is in so much made-up mental anguish.

This is an ambitious try at a interesting play and there is much to recommend it. The play is in the Leo K Theater at the Bagley Wright at The Seattle Center which is a wonderful space for intimate theater (as is the Center Theater where the Company usually resides – also at the Seattle Center). The style of this theater group…in the words of John Bradshaw, overheard by me, again, eavesdropping: “this is the type of theater experience where people leave excited because in the front row you can feel the actors spit on you when the lines are delivered!”

That kind of live theater intimacy, their professional production values and the tackling of interesting and challenging plays is THE charm of the Seattle Shakespeare Company and keeps me coming back and recommending the shows to you!

Easy parking at the Mercer Street Garage for $15.

NOTE: The Company sustained a terrible flood in July they are still accepting donations to help in recovery. Here is the story and a way to donate.

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