A Winter’s Tale: a Shakespearean tragedy with a happy ending.
A Winter’s Tale—the rarest of theatrical possibilities, a Shakespearean tragedy in which no one dies by murder or falling on his sword, that has in fact a happy ending. One would not suspect as much from the first half of SF Shakes’ staging of this, one of the Bard’s most mature and uplifting plays.
Picture this: a king so driven by jealous rage that he plots the murders of his best friend and his wife, two innocents whom he has come to believe with all his heart have been carrying on an affair behind his back. There is no Iago here, no villain who has put this idea into his mind, unless it is the overactive imagination of Leontes himself. But as performed here by Stephen Muterspaugh, the suspicion and its inevitable aftermath grow like a cancer that threaten to destroy everyone in reach. We can understand his torment, even as we decry his forsaking his friend Polenexes (David Everett Moore), his wife Hermione (Maryssa Wanlass), his only son Mamillius, and the daughter about to be born. He will reject them all.
These scenes, as played by these actors ably directed by Rebecca J. Ennals , give us Shakespearean tragedy of the highest order. Especially compelling are the trial of the blameless queen, professing her innocence and willingly offering her own life in its defense, and the despair of Leontes once she is gone, and the handmaid Paulina’s (Carla Pantoja) incredibly impassioned casting of the blame for this miscarriage onto the head of the devastated king. My words cannot do justice to this truly remarkable scene.
But, wait! The production turns on its heel, and the first half ends on a lighter note—the infant daughter has been taken away. She lives. Here (23 years later) begins an interlude of music and dance, of light costuming. Leontes daughter Perdita (he does not know she lives), having grown up a shepherd’s daughter in Bohemia, has fallen in love with and will soon marry the son of that same Polenexes. Light touches abound, especially in the antics of the multifaceted Lizzie Calogero and Phil Lowery as the old shepherd, and the masked king Polenexes and his lieutenant Camillo (Damien Seperi) looking in on the peasants’ celebrations.
Let us unmask these characters in the end, returning to Leontes—now the true father he would always have been—in Sicily, for the two young lovers to wed, and another miracle to unfold. Paulina, the faithful retainer after all these years, has commissioned a statue to the long-dead Hermione. Lifelike in every way but one, the spirit moves into her inert form, and she returns to life. All is restored, all is forgiven. A fitting end.
It is SF Shakes’ mission to bring these FREE shows to outdoor venues (this one was at the Parade Ground in the Presidio) on the peninsula and in the City.. A noble mission indeed, and admirably done.
Through October 2, at the Presidio and then McLaren Park
Review by David Hirzel