Written by William Shakespeare
Directed by Brain Pastor
Choreography by Alexa Berkowitz
Produced by the Promethean Theatre Ensemble
At Studio One, The Athenaeum Theatre, Chicago
Promethean Theatre Ensemble Struggles with Uneven Winter’s Tale
“A sad tale’s best for Winter,” says Mamillius (Janeane Bowlware) in William Shakespeare’s disjointed Winter’s Tale. At times self referential, dramatic in its tonal shifts, the play has often been debated as to how it should be categorized. Is it a romance? A comedy? The Promethean Theatre Ensemble refers to it as “A Greek tragedy with a happy ending.” So goes this disjunctive play, perhaps intentionally so, about a jealous King’s fantasies that lead at once to the destruction of his family and, following his repentance, a reuniting of what was lost.
It is within moments of the very first scene that the seeds of jealousy are planted. Leontes (John Arthur Lewis), failing to convince his friend and fellow King Polixenes (Jared Dennis) to stay for an extended period of time, turns to his pregnant wife, Hermoine (Cameron Feagin), for assistance. Following Hermoine’s insistence, Polixenes accepts instantly. Leontes becomes immediately paranoid of Hermoine’s faithfulness. His jealousy quickly drives him mad and he plots to poison Polixenes. This does not work out. Leontes is betrayed by his nobleman Camillo (Nick Lake) and responds by imprisoning his pregnant wife. Eventually putting Hermoine on trail and summoning the knowledge of an oracle, Leontes is found incorrect in his assumptions, and his punishment for distrusting the gods results in not only the death of his wife, but the death of his son Mamillius.
This is but the first three acts of Shakespeare’s loaded Winter’s Tale, and it is in this half that the Promethean Ensemble shines. John Arthur Lewis’ Leontes is so quick to temper, so quick to paranoia, that it’s hard not to consider such a character mentally unwell. His outbursts are grounded by tremendously earthly and approachable performances by Nick Lake and Cameron Feagin. Feagin’s performance alone saves the play from absurdity, as each of her breaths seems crucial. Her wide eyes control a quiet room, her feminine grace palpable. It should be noted that the women in this play are all particularly strong and dominating, perhaps the most interesting thing, to me, about the writing of the play. In many ways, Shakespeare seems to be making a comment about a particularly male form of jealously.
However, all of this is lost in the final two acts, light-hearted and full of slap stick. It’s challenging for actors and audience alike to transition from the first portion of this play to the conclusion. The final two acts attempt to find a way to unconvincingly wrap up the tragedy of the first three acts in a tidy bow. However, the cast has the utmost fun attempting to do so. From the beginning of act four, the cast reminds its audience aggressively that “Now is the time to laugh!” Such coddling proved difficult for me. Still, several performances shine through, but the cast could not rise above the uneven source material that is Shakespeare’s Winter Tale.
It isn’t to say that this is a bad performance by any means, it’s just not a great one, and The Winter’s Tale is a particularly difficult play to pull off. This production is noteworthy for Cameron Feagin’s performance as Hermione, but, other than that, The Athenaeum Theatre failed to convince me that this Winter Tale is worth reconsidering.
Reviewed November 20, 2014
For more information, see The Winter’s Tale page at TheatreinChicago.com
Playing at Studio One, The Athenaeum Theatre, 2936 N. Southport Ave., Chicago. Call 773-935-6875 or visit www.prometheantheatre.org for tickets. $22.00 for adults, $12.00 for children/students/seniors, The Promethean Theatre Ensemble. Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays at 7:30pm. Sundays at 2:00pm. Running time is two and a half hours with a ten minute intermission. Through December 13, 2014