The Winter’s Tale by William Shakespeare. Guthrie Theater, Minneapolis, Minnesota. 29 January – 27 March, 2011.

Bruce E. Brandt
South Dakota State University

Bruce E. Brandt. "Review of The Winter’s Tale by William Shakespeare. Guthrie Theater, Minneapolis, Minnesota. 29 January – 27 March, 2011." EMLS 15.3 (2011): 15.

Directed by Jonathan Munby. Set designed by Alexander Dodge. Costumes designed by Linda Cho. Lighting designed by Oliver Fenwick and Philip S. Rosenberg. Music composed by Adam Wernick. Sound designed by Scott W. Edwards. Choreography by Daniel Pelzig. Voice and Language Consulting by Andrew Wade. Dramaturgy by Carla Steen. With Michael Hayden (Leontes), Michelle O’Neill (Hermione), Noah Coon (Mamillius), Devon Solwold (Mamillius), Bill McCallum (Polixenes), Bob Davis (Camillo), Stephen Yoakam (Antigonus, Time), Sean Michael Dooley (Cleomenes, Mariner), Tyson Forbes (Dion, Shepherd’s Servant, Bear), Helen Carey (Paulina), Ansa Akyea (Archidamas, Lord), Christina Baldwin (Emilia), Emily Gunyou Halaas (Lady, Mopsa), Suzanne Warmanen (Lady, Oracle, Dorcas), Juan Rivera Lebron (Lord, Florizel), John Catron (Jailor, Young Shepherd), Raye Birk (Doctor, Shepherd), Christine Weber (Guard, Perdita), Michael Thomas Holmes (Autolycus).

  1. The Guthrie Theater’s modern-dress production of The Winter’s Tale was played on the theatre’s Wurtele Thrust Stage. The cast was superb throughout, convincingly depicting emotions and behaviors that are difficult to portray believably, including Leontes’ descent into a crippling jealousy, Polixenes’ paternal anger, and the fierce strength of Paulina’s daring to speak truth to authority. Perdita’s regality shone through her country garments, and Autolycus and the shepherds were remarkably comic.

  2. Equally impressive were the play’s staging and its innovative treatment of key moments in the text. The setting, as described in the Guthrie’s on-line play guide, was Kennedy-era Washington for Sicilia and a conflation of rural Minnesota and late 1960’s hippiedom for Bohemia (p. 18). Set designer Alexander Dodge specifically identifies the East Room of the White House as the inspiration for the Sicilia set (p. 18). There, for ten minutes prior to the actual beginning of the play, the audience was entertained by watching a New Year’s Eve celebration attended by the Sicilian court and their Bohemian guests. The men were tuxedoed, as was Mamillius, who entertained himself playing with his toy airplanes. The women’s elegant ball gowns, created by Costume Designer Linda Cho, were “based on a photograph of Charles James dresses taken by Cecil Beaton for Vogue magazine during the John F. Kennedy Inaugural Ball of 1961” (p. 22). The partygoers danced to big band music, with the vocals being sung by Emila. When the festive crowd counted down the seconds to the New Year and toasts rang out, the play began.

  3. Depicting Sicilia as a Kennedy-style Camelot for Sicilia was effective, evoking an era of glitter and promise that somehow went wrong, and which was ultimately overshadowed by death. Two parts of the Sicilia portion of the play were particularly striking. The “just and open trial” (2.3.205) announced by Leontes was a Stalin-like show trial. Hermione was brought out in chains, and forced to speak into a microphone facing the audience. Whenever she turned toward her husband, he brusquely gestured for her to face the microphone, until finally he lost his self-control and they spoke directly to each other. When Hermione then requested to hear the Oracle, she was brought on stage, for Cleomenes and Dion had returned from Delphos not with a letter but with the Oracle herself. Frail and elderly, transported in a wheelchair, and using two canes to stand when it came time for her to speak at court, the Oracle’s lips were conspicuously taped shut, humorously literalizing the text’s reference to “This sealed up oracle” (3.2.127). Despite her age, when the tape was ripped off she spoke with a voice of thunder, leaving no doubt of her divine authority.

  4. The action at the end of the first half, when events shifted to the coast of Bohemia, also contained a number of innovative performance choices. First, when Antigonus related his dream of Hermione to the infant Perdita, saying “thy mother / Appeared to me last night” (3.3.16-7), Hermione appeared through a scrim behind him, speaking the message that he had dreamed.  Then, as Antigonus was leaving to return to his ship, the bear (played by a man in a bear suit) padded silently out of the darkness at the back of the stage and, in an effective and frightening moment, began to snuffle the baby. Antigonus responded by moving toward the bear, snapping his scarf like a whip and yelling, thus drawing the bear’s attention to himself. Only after the bear had moved away from the baby did Antigonus flee the stage, with the bear in pursuit. Had Antigonus not chosen to intervene, he would not have been chased and eaten, but in this production he courageously sacrificed himself to save Perdita. Finally, just before the intermission, the old shepherd turned and swirled the infant Perdita, who unraveled into a shawl which he placed over the shoulders of the sixteen-year-old Perdita who at that instant appeared before him, with Florizel simultaneously appearing and standing nearby. It was a clever representation of the passing of the years before the chronological leap was explicitly spelled out by Time at the beginning of the second half.

  5. When the scene changed to Bohemia, a grove of birches appeared at the back of the stage, and flowers blossomed here and there around the front. Just as Camelot was a good match for Sicilia, Bohemia was well-served by the bell-bottomed ambience of this sixties-inspired world. It suggested free spirits and youthful rebellion, and it did, of course, follow a few years after the time suggested in the first part of the play. The scene with Autolycus’s first appearance was especially striking. What had appeared to be a piece of canvas lying on the ground rose up, turning into a colorful tent, out of which Autolycus, carrying a guitar, appeared in his underwear. As he sang his first song and addressed the audience, three bedraggled young women one-by-one made their way out of the tent and collapsed on the ground, followed by a young man in his underwear who urinated in the birch grove and then exited. The participants in the love-in had disappeared by the time the young shepherd arrived to have his pocket picked, and, in this production, more than his pocket. Before leaving, Autolycus had stripped him down to his underwear.

  6. Men in underwear were featured yet another time, when Autolycus and Florizel exchanged clothing. As they did so, Camillo attempted to keep Perdita from looking. Perhaps he was right to do so. When Perdita described the other shepherdesses at the sheep-shearing festival as wearing their “virgin branches yet” (4.4.115), their demeanor betrayed them. Perdita was not at the love-in, but they were. In any case, in a major departure from the text, Autolycus disappeared from the play after donning Florizel’s clothing and subsequently accepting the Old Shepherd’s gold. The lines telling the audience that he would actually present the shepherd and his son to the king were cut, and after he stopped to “look upon the hedge” (4.4.828-9), he left in the opposite direction of the shepherd and son. Later, when the young shepherd boasts of now being a gentleman born, Autolycus’s part is given to a Sicilian lord. The change makes good sense. Autolycus’s roguishness is not redeemed by an uncharacteristic act of kindness, and it does not seem unlikely that a member of the Sicilian court would have found the young oaf to be no gentleman, but now must speak politely to him.

  7. The statue scene that ends the play was elegantly done. A drapery encircling an area approximately five feet in diameter descended from the fly space to the stage, and those onstage gathered around it. Then it rose, revealing Hermione’s “statue” standing on a tall pedestal. As the time for her resurrection approached, the pedestal sank into the stage, bring her nearer to stage level. Combined with the amazing immobility achieved by Michelle O’Neill, this last bit of stagecraft capped a strong production.

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© 2011-, Annaliese Connolly and Matthew Steggle (Editors, EMLS).