Monday, March 02, 2009

"The Winter's Tale" at BAM

This "Tale" was produced by BAM (Brooklyn Academy of Music), The Old Vic, and Neal Street Productions, under the aegis of The Bridge Project. In his Director's Note, Sam Mendes explains that The Bridge Project was born of "a wish for artists, collaborators and audiences on both sides of the Atlantic to experience one another's work, talent, and artistry in the theater." 

So, from Britain, Simon Russell Beale played the jealous King of Sicilia, Leontes; Rebecca Hall played his queen, Hermione; Paul Jesson played Camillo, a Lord who would not poison the king's imagined rival; Dakin Matthews (American) played Antigonus who is killed by the bear; and Sinead Cusack played Paulina, wife to Antigonus. Beale as Leontes and Cusack as Pauline were outstanding. Hall was moving at her trial scene, but lacklustre elsewhere. 

The other country Bohemia was predominantly populated by Americans. Josh Hamilton played Polixenes, the King; Michael Braun played Florizel the Prince; Morven Christie (Scottish) played Perdita who thought she was Bohemian until she discovers her royal Sicilian identity; Ethan Hawke played Autolycus, a rogue. Richard Easton and Tobias Segal played Old Shepherd and his Son with great liveliness and comedy.

The play itself is hard to perform. After the first part's intense psychodrama of sexual jealousy, it changes, after an interval of sixteen years, into a light-hearted pastoral. This production updated the sheep-shearing celebration into a county fair out of the Midwest, complete with picnic tables, guitars, and red, white and blue balloons. The directorial decision puzzles me. (But see the comment by nelsonnyc.) Ethan Hawke as Autolycus was not funny enough, and the young couple in love was not compelling enough to lift the dragging plot. The last scene, however, when Hermione the statue came to life, and was reunited with husband and daughter, was magical. 


nelsonnyc said...

If you read your program, you'll see that Morven Christie is Scottish, and Dakin Matthews is American. They're just performing with different accents because in this Winter's Tale, Sicilia is Victorian England and Bohemia is the post-Civil-War American South.

I think that directorial decision, which you found puzzling, is a wonderful one on many levels. It celebrates the mixed cultural roots of the Bridge Project itself; it contrasts the propriety of Leontes' world with the earthiness of the Shepherd's; and it allows Ethan Hawke and composer Mark Bennett to dig into some sweetly gritty bluegrass music for Bohemia.

Jee Leong Koh said...

Thanks, Nelson, for the corrections. I understand better now the aims of the directorial decision, but feel the same about the entertainment value of those Bohemian scenes.

Eshuneutics said...

"The Winter's Tale" is one of the most hermetic of Shakespeare's plays. Often, it is staged patriarchally, with Leontes predominating (as if the play is another "Othello", a study in jealousy). I sense that this version--for all its eccentricites--is really quite traditional. I once saw a magical version of "Pericles" in English and Chinese (Mandarin)in which the female presences were given mythological significance and foregrounded...and that brought a new depth to the female renaissance at the play's close. . "The Winter's Tale" has a female Hermeticism. Shakespeare plays with Her-metica, casting Paulina as the Magus. The return of Her-mione is the return of dark, female Hermetic magic and Eleusinian mysteries. Autolycus, of course, is the superficial Hermes: the confidence trickser, god of thieves. Paulina is the Hermes who stands between life and death, surface and underworld. The patriarchal version creates a tragic hero, a lot of scenes that don't tie in, and a dramatic climax. "The Winter's Tale" is one of Shakespeare's great plays, but it is rarely well-interpreted.

I sometimes wonder about the liberties taken with Shakespeare. Extreme musical links become compensations for not staging the deep levels of his work. I think the worst version I ever saw was "As You Like It" with a Pink Floyd interlude. I didn't like it.

Jee Leong Koh said...

Andrew, thanks for the class! You help me see the play in a new light.