TheaterMania Logo
Home link

Review: The Winter's Tale Summons Too Much Bedlam for Its Own Good

Bedlam opens its production of Shakespeare's The Winter's Tale, set to run in repertory with Hedda Gabler.

Lisa Birnbaum (Hermione) and Eric Tucker (Leontes) in Bedlam's The Winter's Tale.
(© Ashley Garrett)

Bedlam takes on a hefty pair of plays with repertory productions of Shakespeare's The Winter's Tale and Henrik Ibsen's classic drama Hedda Gabler. The fall Covid surge has left The Winter's Tale on its own for the next week or so, but the dragging weight of what should be the lighter appetizer to Hedda's dense entrée (both directed by Eric Tucker) makes me fear for anyone who attempts both.

Clocking in at over three hours, this Winter's Tale slogs through every bit of the play's first three dour acts while chopping up the romantic final two to make room for misplaced moments of modernized translations and story-halting comedy bits. Perhaps these are Tucker's attempts at tipping the scales back toward levity after an hour-and-a-half of Lear-level tragedy, but the tedious pace of these purposeless meanderings takes a toll on the entertainment factor.

For those who (like myself) think of The Winter's Tale as a romantic jaunt in Bohemia prefaced by a little sinister exposition, allow me to remind you of how the story goes. King Leontes of Sicilia (played by Tucker) becomes convinced that his pregnant wife, Hermione (Lisa Birnbaum), is having an affair with King Polixenes of Bohemia (Elan Zafir). In a fever of paranoia, he orders Polixenes killed, his wife jailed, and the child he believes to be illegitimate left to fend for itself in nature's cruel and unpredictable elements where bears run amok (Shaun Taylor-Corbett performs a particularly menacing version of the classic exit, pursued by a bear stage direction as Antigonus). Polixenes and Hermione are eventually proven innocent by the Oracle of Delphi, but not before Polixenes flees with his pal Camillo (Karen Alvarado), Hermione is declared dead (spoiler alert: she comes back to life), and that "illegitimate" child Perdita (also played by Birnbaum) finds a new home with a kindly shepherd in Bohemia.

The cast of The Winter's Tale at the Irondale Theatre Center.
(© Ashley Garrett)

There are a number of sturdy performances in this first half: Tucker gives Leontes the pompous air of a prototypical beer-drinking husband; Birnbaum imbues her Hermione with presence and poise; and Zafir makes for a sympathetic and clear-spoken Polixenes. Where the production falls apart is in the lack of vision for how all these pieces fit together. Scenic designer John McDermott curates a frat house environment where folks are pounding drinks over in one corner while Leontes broodingly plays darts in another (Daniele Tyler Mathews's confusing amalgamation of modern-ish costumes does not help clarify things). And yet, for the most part, we ignore this grungy environment altogether and simply trudge through the text.

After intermission is where the bold choices come in, and they are head-scratching to say the least. Birnbaum trades in her grounded performance as Hermione for a ditsy Perdita; Zafir performs as her romantic counterpart, Prince Florizel (Polixenes's son), with an oddly dandyish affect; and Shakespearean language is set aside for the scenes between the Clown (Mike Labbadia) and trickster Autolycus (Taylor-Corbett) where the former plays an air-headed music promoter and the latter a shyster recording artist (patience wears especially thin here). Cohesion and pacing are sacrificed for bawdy laughs, and all the charm that usually comes with The Winter's Tale's romantic resolution has been lost to the elements — not of nature, but the winds of creative chaos.

Shaun Taylor-Corbett (Antigonus) and Elan Zafir (Polixenes) in a scene from The Winter's Tale.
(© Ashley Garrett)
Loading...
Loading...
Loading...
Loading...