A Noise Within’s outstanding classical repertory company hits the mark again with a crisp, cogent and revealing rendition of “The Winter’s Tale,” Shakespeare’s little-produced lyric drama of jealousy, cosmology, mystical romance and resurrection. Under the sharp direction of Art Manke, the ensemble cast delivers an engaging and often rapturous evening.
Shakespeare’s adaptation of the popular novel by Robert Greene was first performed in 1611, after Shakespeare’s company of players had been moved to the Blackfriars theater, where it played to a more elite audience than at the Old Globe. The play was criticized at the time, along with “The Tempest” and “Cymbeline,” for being more effete and less populist than his earlier plays.
In fact, the play is a departure for the bard, a cautious leap into the pagan mysteries of cosmology, mysticism and the hereafter. Even in today’s world of post-modern techno-paganism, Shakespeare’s scenes of orgiastic pastoral worship and seances with statues seem faintly heretical.
Still, Shakespeare’s dramatic instincts are in full force, as he tells the tale of the jealous Leontes (Dan Kern), King of Sicilia, who falsely accuses his wife Hermione (Jenna Cole) of adultery with his brother Polixenes (Mark Bramhall), King of Bohemia. Leontes’ jealous fury results not only in the death of his wife and son, Mamillius (Oliver Young), but also in the bitter exile of his newborn baby daughter.
Unlike Shakespeare’s other tragedy of jealous love, “Othello,” this play is about the lifelong consequences of a misguided jealous rage. When the baby grows to become the beautiful Perdita (Abigail Dillen), and falls in love with the Prince of Bohemia, Florizel (Daniel Aasheim), Leontes must bear the full force of his younger intemperance.
What is magical about this play and its production here is the mystical subtext, as Shakespeare leaps about through time and place, exploring not so much the frailties of human action, but the spiritual consequences of that action. It is as if, having triumphed in his exploration of the human spirit, Shakespeare is looking into other realms beyond our seeing and knowing.
Director Manke captures the tone of this mystical journey, not only with the mood of the set design by Angela Balogh Calin, lighting by James Taylor, fanciful costumes by Kevin King and the evocative music composed by Michael Welsh, but in the gentle, detailed performances of the ensemble company.
Cole is dynamic as the wronged Hermione, who even as she laments her fate, seems to accept it with almost mystic resignation. Robert Pescovitz, who plays Leontes’ reluctant hatchetman, also taps this transcendent tone as he faithfully carries out the inexorable destruction of the King’s family.
Mitchell Edmonds is excellent as the thief Autolycus, who is the low-born catalyst for redemption. Jenifer Parker gives a commanding, convincing performance as the wise and magical Paulina. Kern is solid as Leontes, as are Bramhall and Aasheim. And John Billingsley has an amusing turn as a rural dolt.
In addition to the regular run at its theater in Glendale, the company will also perform at colleges in Irvine on March 14, Torrance on April 11 and Santa Barbara on May 8 and 9.