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Great Lakes production of Winter’s Tale, direction and set design complement each other

October 11, 2012

By Luke Gorman

“A Winter’s Tale,” by William Shakespeare, currently in production by the Great Lakes Theater company at Playhouse Square, is the literary equivalent of the last 50 feet at the peak of Mount Everest — plodding and largely inaccessible.

Shakespeare does not make it easy in this one. Part romantic drama, “A Winter’s Tale” lacks the eloquence of “Romeo and Juliet.” Part tragedy, it is void of the powerfully constructed discourse of “Julius Caesar.” Part comedy, Shakespeare weaves a tale of incredulity and confusion that simply tosses in humor well into the proceedings that swings at but misses the wit of “Twelfth Night.”

Photo by Roger Mastroianni

King Leontes of Sicilia (David Anthony Smith), struck with jealousy and fever, falsely accuses Queen Hermione (Lise Bruneau) of sleeping with his old friend Polixenes, the King of Bohemia (Lynn Robert Berg).

Leontes imprisons the Queen and exiles his newborn daughter, while Polixenes flees before Leontes’ order to murder him is fulfilled.
In the second act, it is 16 years later, springtime, and in Bohemia. King Leontes’ long-abandoned daughter (Kimbre Lancaster) and King Polixenes’ son (Miles Gaston Villanueva) fall in love.

The actors of the Great Lakes Theater company are the true heroes of this production. Smith plays Leontes with remarkable passion, boldly taking the character through the many emotional highs and lows that the playwright burdens him with. In the beginning of the first act, as Leontes descends into madness, Smith nearly foams at the mouth.

Later, cured and remorseful, he plays Leontes’ repentance with equal boldness. His fellow cast members do much the same with their respective emotional transitions, regardless of whether they operate in the context of romance, tragedy, or comedy.
Credit should also be given to director Jesse Berger, who orchestrates all this activity and helps give order and energy to the play.

His efforts are nicely complemented by dramatic set design by David M. Barber, whose work facilitates the playwright’s storytelling and Berger’s vision for the different moods in the play. Act one is staged in dark and dismal interiors of Leontes’ fortress, while the contrasting second act takes place in the sunny outdoors.

Through world-class acting and excellent direction, the Great Lakes Theater breathes life into Shakespeare’s problem play. What is a plodding and largely inaccessible work on the page becomes something much more enjoyable on the stage. “The Winter’s Tale” continues through Nov. 4 at Playhouse Square’s Hanna Theatre in downtown. For tickets, which range from $15 to $70, call 216-241-6000 or visit www.greatlakestheater.org.