Classic Chic gives The Winter's Tale emotional truth
By William Shakespeare. Directed by Lisa Wolpe. A Classic Chic production at the PAL Studio Theatre on Thursday, July 31. Continues until August 9
There are actors in this world who don’t get enough attention. Corina Akeson is one of them.
In this all-female production of William Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale, from the brand-new and unfortunately named company Classic Chic, Akeson plays King Leontes with more force and depth than any of the men I’ve seen in the role.
Leontes makes a great big, macho mistake: in an orgy of jealousy, he publicly accuses his wife, Hermione, of getting “slippery” with—and impregnated by—his best friend, Polixenes. He locks Hermione in prison and casts the daughter she gives birth to into the wilderness. When their young son languishes and dies, Hermione, too, seems to expire from grief.
Then the play jumps forward 16 years and completely changes tone. Perdita, the daughter, has been raised by an old shepherd and, all of a sudden, we’re in a frothy pastoral fantasy.
In the darkness of the earlier scenes and in their moving resolution at the end of the play, director Lisa Wolpe’s production is impressively successful. Leontes’s rage comes out of nowhere, and the actor playing him has to sustain it for pages. Miraculously, Akeson brings this all to painful, seething life. And when he realizes his error, Akeson’s Leontes is nauseated by his stupidity, almost to the point of retching—and it works.
Throughout, the actors make clear sense of the text. Jennifer Cameron plays Camillo, an ethical member of Leontes’s court, with quiet intelligence. Michelle Martin plays Antigonus, the courtier who Leontes tells to burn Hermione’s newborn baby to death, and Martin’s passionate reading of Antigonus’s resistance brought tears to my eyes.
The pastoral scenes work less well. Under Wolpe’s direction, a lot of the clowning is far more goofy than witty. The old shepherd and his son do a silly little happy dance when they find the cache of money that the baby comes with, for instance. And the director stuffs these scenes with physical activity, which gets distracting (there’s a fair bit of wandering in the serious scenes, too). Although Janet Glassford, who plays the raffish cutpurse Autolycus, delivers an engaging performance, you’d have to be a genius to really make Autolycus’s material work.
Still, there’s a baseline of emotional truth in this interpretation, so the climax—which is all about forgiveness—is a heartbreaker.