The Winter’s Tale is often called a problem play, but when its problems are solved, it is one of Shakespeare’s richest works. A successful production is as impressive as a statue that comes to life, so it is required that the theater-makers awaken their faith. For Theater 150’s production, director Jessica Kubzansky must have injected caffeine straight into all the artists, because they did far more than just solve the problems.
Kubzansky renovates and unifies this complex story with brave directorial choices. She expands the role of Time as a theme and a character (Matt Foyer) who starts the action with a snap and returns periodically to share timely Shakespearean sonnets. Susan Gratch’s design of the outdoor amphitheater turns the stage floor into a giant clock, and Randy Tico’s original music/sound design keeps ticking away as a sensory reminder that Time is the most unforgiving figure of all.
Kubzansky, like many others, isn’t content to imagine that Queen Hermione goes off to twiddle her thumbs in a cottage for sixteen years until Leontes feels sufficiently sorry. So Kubzansky’s solution is this: Hermione fakes a death and lives for sixteen years in Bohemia disguised as a rogue named … drum roll … Autolycus. Shakespeare snobs, take a deep breath. This choice makes both characters more interesting and unifies the ending so well that I imagined Shakespeare slapping his forehead in his grave and thinking, “Duh!” The fused role requires a truly dynamic actress, and Carolyn Ratteray is clearly one: She radiates sorrowful regality in the court scene and then earns her laughs as the brazen pickpocket.
The entire production is both well cast and well costumed (the latter by Leah Piehl). Susan Denaker as Paulina convinces the court and the audience of her ability to take the reins and run without stumbling. Robert Mammana has full control of his King Leontes, as well—it is a pleasure to watch him quickly and subtly heat up to blood-boiling, gut-reeling jealousy before the end of the first act, and then deftly crumble into genuine remorse and repentance. Tim Cummings plays King Polixenes with the perfect amounts of masculinity, flair, and good-humored sexuality to suspend the tension that fuels Leontes’s jealousy. Mary Kate Wiles’s Perdita is lovely, from the flowers in her fingers to her pointed toes, and Kendrick Thompson’s Prince Florizel exudes lusty boyishness.
Theater 150 proves that The Winter’s Tale is best for summer, and that there isn’t a problem that can’t be solved with a little time and a lot of faith.