An Intimate Night in Contemporary Interpretation of a Classic
By Lucia Rossi
Reading works by William Shakespeare may be difficult for some, but seeing it in action definitely adds clarification. Even if you don’t understand what the characters are saying, you can surely feel it.
This was especially true with The Pearl Theatre Company’s interpretation of the play “The Winter’s Tale.”
“The Winter’s Tale” is a tragic comedy about kings who become mad with jealousy, an accused innocent queen, a prince and princess who fall in love, and a prophesy that must come true, held together by loyal friends who help make the magic happen.
All theatre companies interpret Shakespeare plays in different ways. Some keep it classic and some modernize it. This play was modernized in terms of its setting, props, and costumes. The classic Shakespeare lines were kept unchanged and there were no serious plot changes, either. I would say this play did Shakespeare justice.
The theatre itself is a small and cozy black box theatre with a considerably low number of seats. The play was very close up and personal, with little special effects.
The group of actors was small and diverse. Some played more than one role. James Udom played Florizel and Mamillius, Imani Jade Powers played Perdita, messenger, and one of Hermione’s ladies, and Dominic Cuskern played Antigonus and the Shepherd.
This play was not meant to be extravagant with its looks; it was all about the acting, and the acting was very intense. Peter Francis James, who played Leontes, had so much intensity. So much so that you could see the sweat on his neck, his face turn red from anger, spit flying from his mouth, and tears fill his eyes.
The actors had no microphones but every word could be heard clearly. Whenever there was a monologue, they would come to the front of the stage, the lights went down, and everyone in the background froze in place.
Although the main characters are royalty, the setting and costumes did not suggest such a thing. This was puzzling to me and somewhat of a disappointment. The setting was that of a modern dining room with a dinner table, chairs, a fire place, a few armchairs, wooden armoires, a closet, a storage bench and a piano. For scene changes, furniture was merely moved in different positions, nothing drastic.
Their costumes were simple, modern, and business casual. They looked like rich upper class modern people with their cocktail dresses, slacks, and suits. Nothing about it really screamed “Nobility.”
Although characters and lines did not change, the portrayal of one character did, Autolycus in particular. In the original play, Autolycus is an old man who is a thief and a con artist. In this play, Autolycus, played by Steve Cuiffo, is still a thief and con artist, but he is also a magician and musician. Autolycus here was a young man, poor, and carried a guitar around. He had a hippie image that was very Bono-like.
Autolycus was the comic relief of the play with the tricks he played and his mischievous, but charming nature. He added some pizzazz to his role by bringing a confident personality and edgy rockstar style. He did magic tricks that were surprising, including one where he kept getting rid of toothpicks in his mouth that kept reappearing.
Just because this is a Shakepeare play doesn’t mean that there were no songs. There were cheerful and sorrowful songs performed. One that was particularly bittersweet was the song sung by Imani Jade Powers where she repeats the words, “How like winter, the winter.”
This sad song was appropriate for The Winter’s Tale much like how a sad tale is appropriate for winter.
The characters, though diverse, fit their roles perfectly. The love between Florizel and Perdita was intimate and believable perhaps because the two actors of the roles are actually dating in real life. Needless to say, there was an immense amount of kissing between them.
My main disappointment was with Hermione’s statue costume, or lack of one. On the playbill cover is Hermione as a statue. When given this, it was my expectation to see this in the play. However, Hermione as a statue was merely her in her original clothing, standing still.
Other than that, the play was, in some ways, more exciting and vivacious than the book. I believed this during the scene where all the actors became bears and started attacking. In the play, this scene was only a stage direction but here, it was much more.
You don’t have to understand Shakespeare to understand this play. The actors understood it for you and showed you what everything meant. Thanks to this, no one should fear Shakespeare.