Not one of Shakespeare's better efforts, The Winter's Tale is a hodgepodge of scenes reminiscent of other, better plays in the canon: there's irrational jealousy, pastoral romance, a charming rogue, true identities discovered, bawdy jokes, the slow descent into madness, the betrayal of a loved one and the heartfelt (but thoroughly unbelievable) reconciliation. While director Stephanie Routman should be commended for her adventurous choice of a play that isn't staged often and her valiant attempt to make sense out of a mess, her production has too much of a been-there-done-that feel and not enough of the psychological insight that would allow us to see the play fresh.
In a fit of paranoia, King Leontes (a rehash of both Othello and Iago) mistakes his wife's kindliness with his friend Polixenes for adultery, plots his friend's assassination, has his wife imprisoned, declares his newborn daughter a bastard and has her banished to the wilderness. The second half of the script, set years later, abruptly changes tone, retreating into slapstick comedy, as thief/pickpocket Autolycus (David Pintado, mining Dirty Rotten Scoundrels-era Steve Martin) somehow brings families to their senses and lost ones back to their loved ones.
To buy the various creaky transitions and rushed transformations, the audience can only suspend its disbelief if it fears Leontes' potential for tyranny and violence from the get-go. Only then do the tragic events and their happy resolutions seem inevitable and less like huge plot contrivances. As Leontes, Jarred Kjack isn't up to the task of convincing us he's mad; his performance is more one-note anger than dangerous delusion. Since we don't understand or feel for him, we're cut adrift until his appearance in the second half. That performance—a recovered man haunted by his grief—is far more subtle and sympathetic. The audience is with him, and the entire second half works.
As for the notorious "statue comes to life" climax, while Routman's stylistic addition of "The Muses" seems intended to make the ending supernatural, a closer examination of the text suggests it patently isn't. The dead character may not have died; she may have been safe-housed with the aid of another character and not resurrected magically at all. Instead of a nice addition to the mythological underpinnings of the story and an arresting rain-as-sorrow metaphor, the only thing it reveals is a superficial reading of Shakespeare's intent.
THE WINTER'S TALE AT THE CAL STATE FULLERTON PERFORMING ARTS CENTER RECITAL HALL, 800 N. STATE COLLEGE, FULLERTON, (714) 278-3371. THURS.-FRI., 8 P.M.; SAT., 2 & 8 P.M.; SUN., 2 P.M. $7-$9.
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