Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Review: Stunning production of Shakespeare's 'A Winter's Tale' at the McCarter Theatre

The ​McCarter Theatre Center‘s stunning production of one of William Shakespeare’s most elegant  plays, considered one of his late romances, “The Winter’s Tale” directed by Rebecca Taichman opened this past weekend and will run through April 21.

A note of warning to Shakespeare purists, director Taichman’s presentation is a bit of a distillation or reworking of Shakespeare’s original tale. She states “With the spirit of economy in cast size (nine actors play all the roles) we also attempted to cut the text to a more muscular form. Many characters in the original are no longer in this version. Hopefully the essential spirit remains.” 

That said, Taichman’s production is highly impressive.  It is presented very effectively in modern dress with the actors, for example, making their initial entrance on a relatively barren stage set with nine chairs placed across the space. The actors move slowly and silently around the chairs before taking seats not unlike musical chairs. In fact, as we are introduced to each character the chairs are silently moved to the rear of the set, a suggestion of an elegant paneled hall with two open doorways. During much of the play the actors not participating in a particular scene are quietly seated along the rear wall.

The plot that moves back and forth between comedy and drama, covers suspected infidelity, jealousy, young love, broken hearts, an abandoned baby, reconciliation and disguised identities. Naturally in the end, if we can borrow a title from one of  Will’s other plays “All’s Well That Ends Well.” 

Leading a fine cast is Mark Harelik as both Leontes, King of Sicilia (Sicily), and the rogue Autolycus. Others are Sean Arbuckle as Polixenes, King of Bohemia, Todd Bartels as Dion, a Sicilian Lord, Tony winner Brent Carver as Camillo,  Nancy Robinette as Paulina, a Sicilian Lady and a drunken shepherdess, Tom Story as Cleomenes, a Sicililan Lord and a young shepherd (Clown), Ted van Griethuysen as Antigonus, a Sicililan Lord and the Old Shepherd, Heather Wood as Mamillius, Prince of Sicilia and Perdita, Princess of Sicilia,  and Hannah Yelland as Hermone, Queen of Sicilia.

Mark Harelik provides a masterful performance in the dual roles of King and Autolycus. The role of Leontes, in particular, is one of the great male roles in all of Shakespeare’s works. It has been called Shakespeare's finest representation of jealousy of the male heart. Harelik’s rogue Autolycus provides one of the comedy highlights of the play. The other cast members are all excellent, with Sean Arbuckle’s Polixenes, King of Bohemia, Ted van Griethuysen’s Antigonus and the Old Shepherd, and Hannah Yelland’s Queen Hermone deserving of special recognition.

To infrequent viewers or readers of Shakespeare we suggest that to maximize your enjoyment of this outstanding production the reading at least the first act of “A Winter’s Tale” to familiarize yourself with Shakespeare's complex sentence structures and use of now obsolete words. 

Also, many older theater goers with less than perfect hearing may benefit by sitting as far forward in the orchestra as possible. The Matthews Theatre is large and sitting beyond row N may result in limited hearing. The actors are not “miked” and there is no overall amplification. The practice of an actor projecting to the back row, not unique here, seems to be a lost art. Also, for those with a more severe hearing condition check the box office for the availability of assistive listening devices which allow you to adjust the volume of the performance and enjoy it at your own level.

The production includes the elegant set by Christine Jones, costumes by David Zinn, lighting by Christopher Akerlind, sound by Matt Tierney, original music by Nico Muhly and choreography by Camille A. Brown. The production stage manager is Alison Cote and assistant stage manager is Samantha Flint.

Reviewed by Rick Busciglio  April 7, 2013

Tickets for Williams Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale range from $20-$67, and are available online at, by phone at (609) 258-2787, and in person at the McCarter Theatre ticket office (91 University Place, Princeton). Student and group rates are also available.​

Mark Harelik and Brent Carver
Hannah Yelland, Mark Harelik and Sean Arbuckle
Tom Story (center) and the cast of The Winter’s Tale
Photos by T. Charles Erickson

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