- The Winter's Taleby The Cincinnati Shakespeare Company
Perhaps the most challenging speech in The Winter's Taleis that of Time, the allegorical figure who takes the stage at the start of Act Four and beseeches the audience to "[i]mpute it not a crime / To me … that I slide / O'er sixteen years" (4.1.4–6). Coming on the heels of a harrowing first three acts—to say nothing of, in most productions, intermission—the speech teeters on the edge of parody. With his hourglass in hand, Time might be more at home with Pyramus and Thisbe's Moonshine and Wall than in this brutal study of absolute power. In the Cincinnati Shakespeare Company's production, Barry Mulholland as Time let us all in on the joke, shaking his head with self-deprecating wonder at what Shakespeare had cooked up now. Mulholland's treatment of Time suggested that the allegorical figure may be no more absurd than the role that time plays in one's own life.
Sitting in the CSC's stunning new Otto M. Budig theater on the corner of Cincinnati's Washington Park in Over-the-Rhine, it was hard not to think of what a difference sixteen years have made in the city itself. In 2003, Over-the-Rhine was listed as one of the most structurally endangered historic districts in America, with fully one-third of its nineteenth-century Italianate buildings standing empty. Today it is the vibrant center of the city, and the Cincinnati Shakespeare Company's [End Page 425]purpose-built new theater is a jewel in the revitalized Washington Park's crown. The CSC did its best in its old space, a former movie theater with a proscenium stage and deep rows of seats. But the new theater, built in the round and looking every bit the Elizabethan cockpit, reveals just how good this company really is. With only six rows and with no seat more than twenty feet from the stage, there is nowhere to hide in the CSC's new house. The line between the stage and the spectators is blurred as actors and audience are drawn into a single community.
Director Christopher Luscombe, an associate artist of the Royal Shakespeare Company, made powerful use of the new space in this production, employing minimalist sets and relying on lighting, costumes, and music to distinguish between the two halves of The Winter's Tale. The opening acts of the play, set in Leontes's court in Sicilia, were shrouded in an icy blue and white pall. The stage was studded with massive marble columns that invoked an austere palace or courthouse, and that looked ahead to the statue that would figure prominently in the play's climax. With actors garbed in fitted jackets and sweeping pelisses, Rainy Edward's costume designs called to mind the Regency era. Since Jane Austen adaptations have come something of a mainstay of Cincinnati theaters, this was a shrewd choice: the costumes primed the audience to expect a refined comedy of manners and made Leontes's overtly sexual jealousies all the more jarring. When he delivered his suspicious asides—as in "Too hot, too hot! / To mingle friendship far is mingling bloods" (1.2.108-9)—the other actors froze as a spotlight singled Leontes out. The shift put us inside his troubled mind, hearing not the civilized banter of the court but the unchecked mutterings of some self-destructive part of the king himself.
The actors playing Leontes, Polixenes, and Hermione were well-cast, and the dynamic among them was compelling. Leontes (Brent Vim-trump) and Polixenes...