“The Winter’s Tale”

Hartford Stage

Hartford Stage is currently presenting an excellent and extremely well cast production of Shakespeare’s “The Winter’s Tale.”  Being largely unfamiliar with this play, there are elements that bring to mind “Othello,” though, by the second half of the show, the tone is quite a bit brighter.  What really makes this staging succeed is the intelligent and lucid direction by Melia Bensussen, which makes all of the many events in the play completely transparent and easy to follow, even if one is not used to seeing a Shakespeare play. 

It also helps that the company of actors is uniformly fine, with some performers taking on more than one role.  On scenic designer Cameron Anderson’s stunning set, there is a large, barren tree at the center of the stage and, in the very back of the set, there is a shining, magnificent skyline, complete with a snow-covered hill.  On this hill, one can see the fine Pearl Rein playing a violin, which adds much to the mood of the show.

And if “The Winter’s Tale” begins as a tragedy, with quite a few horrific events and much jealousy and treason rampant, by the second act, everything becomes more romantic and comedic, with much hope in the air.  The director’s vision of this play is really astounding and transcendent and one hangs on every word and moment of the play.  And even if one is not partial to Shakespeare, this production of “The Winter’s Tale” at Hartford Stage can be heartedly recommended to all and it is quite wonderful that Hartford Stage is presenting Shakespeare again, for the first time since the pandemic.

To give a brief overview of the plot of “The Winter’s Tale,” it concerns King Leontes (extremely well played by Nathan Darrow) suspecting his pregnant wife Hermione (the luminous Jamie Ann Romero) of adultery and making many destructive decisions that are purely compelled by an overwhelming feeling of jealousy and which ultimately bring about dire consequences.  I would hate to give anymore away of this show, since it is the unexpected events in “The Winter’s Tale” which make the production so compelling and surprising.  One of the best performances in the show is by the adorable and skillful Jotham Burrello, as King Leontes and Queen Hermione’s young son, Mamillius, whose spirit of innocence and virtue lingers throughout the production.

Also in the company is the expert Carmen Lacivita as Camillo, whom King Leontes initially assigns to investigate his wife’s supposed infidelity, though this character changes quite a bit during the course of the play.  Jeremy Webb is extraordinary in two roles, as Antigonus, a courtier of the kingdom, in the first act, before later taking on the part of a Shepherd, who, it turns out, manages to provide genuine salvation to the events in the play.  Also outstanding is the fiery Lana Young, as Antigonus’ wife Paulina, who is not afraid to speak the truth openly and she even possesses some magical powers, not to be revealed here.

As King Polixenes, Omar Robinson is just perfect and Daniel Davila, Jr. shines as his son, Florizel.  Delfin Gokhan Meehan is ideal as Perdita, Florizel’s betrothed, who is probably the most pivotal character in the play.  John Maddaloni is extremely good as the Shepherd’s son and Pearl Rhein is terrific in the showy role of the playful Autolycus.  Also adding much to the production are the beautiful costumes, provided by Whitney Locher, and the lighting design by Evan Anderson is one of the finest elements in the show, by turns haunting, festive, and, by the conclusion, almost otherworldly.

The rest of the large cast, including Ana Laura Santana, Hannah Moore, Andrew Black, and Carson Timmons, is splendid and everyone in the company works on the same high level of performance.  Still, it is the astonishing director Melia Bensussen who ultimately makes this production so good.  “The Winter’s Tale” is sometimes referenced as a “problem” play of Shakespeare’s, but Bensussen makes everything work from beginning to end.  She also provides a fitting and bittersweet final moment, which brought tears to my eyes.  By all means, attend “The Winter’s Tale” at Hartford Stage to experience a lesser-known Shakespeare play and also to celebrate the power of theater, which shines quite brightly in this production.

“The Winter’s Tale” runs through May 7, 2023, at Hartford Stage, 50 Church St., Hartford CT.  For tickets and more information, please call 860-527-5151 or visit www.hartfordstage.org.

Photo: Daniel Davila, Jr. and Delfin Gokhan Meehan

Photo by T. Charles Erickson


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