- The Winter's Tale
Fearless is the best word to describe Edward Hall and Propeller's production of The Winter's Tale. This all-male Shakespeare company, which teamed up with director Edward Hall last year for a breathtaking A Midsummer Night's Dream, embraced the difficulty of this play's disjointed structure. Director and company turned sharply from a darkly minimalist version of Sicily to a rowdy, raunchy, music-hall take on Bohemia. They presented inspired, gutsy interpretations of the female characters and created a fast-paced production in which every word of every scene seemed to have been carefully investigated and probed for all of its meaning.
The audience arrived at the Brooklyn Academy of Music's Harvey Theater to find the production already at work. Actor Tam Williams, who played both Mamillius and Perdita, sat totally immobile on the floor in a pair of child's pajamas, staring up at a thin column of sand, which fell in a pale blue spotlight into the child's red wagon before him. The falling sand, like the sands of an hourglass, signaled the play's concern with time. (Indeed, Williams later also played the character of Time.) In the child's wagon, we saw two artist's manikins, their bendable wooden arms and legs held together by thin wires. By placing the manikins in the child's wagon the production raised the idea of people as playthings, easily moved, easily broken, but other tiny manikins, placed around the stage, looked not so much like toys, but like miniature versions of the Sicilian courtiers who would soon fill the stage, striking their own calculated poses to suit the jealous king. This artist's tableau and its hypnotic spell was broken when Williams began to move, playing with the figures and then getting up. His movement alone somehow hushed the noisy audience. As we watched him silently, the house lights slowly went down and the production began.
The costuming, set, and lighting for first three acts in Sicily created a picture of a sophisticated, yet tainted court. The actors wore finely-cut dinner jackets and carried huge brandy snifters. However, the simple set—just a wall of windows with a few columns and ladders, which functioned mostly as a kind of background to their interactions—looked rather dingy, its edges worn, its columns crumbling slightly. Lighting in these scenes was generally in dusky tones of gray and blue. The costumes, in shades of black, gray and white, clearly indicated the relative "darkness" of the characters. Leontes was clad in a solid black dinner jacket [End Page 117] and pants; Polixenes, the innocent Bohemian king, wore a white dinner jacket; and Hermione, who is innocent in deed but whose reputation will be darkened by her harsh experiences, wore a simple gown of dove gray satin. The use of gray seemed also to signal the tenuous place of women in courtly life. In the final act, Hermione and her newly recovered daughter (also clad in a simple gray gown) clung to each other, their faces drawn and wary.
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Onstage sound effects are a Propeller trademark. The oversized brandy snifters, symbols of prosperity but also of excess, were used to create an eerie background noise in the scenes signaling Leontes's descent into madness. As Leontes delivered asides like "Too hot, too hot!/ To mingle...