More often than not, slicing and dicing the classics is a self-entertaining exercise for the young and the restless. There’s a legit point, though, to Sheldon Deckelbaum’s deconstruction of “The Winter’s Tale,” which re-imagines Shakespeare’s most bizarre plot device — the Act V number in which the statue of Hermione comes to life for a romantic reunion with the husband who renounced her — as the wistful fantasy of their heartbroken child. Savvy kid actor Raum-Aron shoulders his beefed-up narrative duties like a little man, and his sturdy perf as Mamillius gives an interesting focus to a play that’s always been a bit of a problem.
Sure enough, young Mamillius is invited to “tell us a tale” in the original text, and the boy does begin a ghost story of “sprites and goblins” on the grounds that “a sad tale’s best for winter.” So helmer has plenty of textual validation for taking liberties. Confining the stripped-down action to the castle nursery doesn’t break any new ground either, since that suggestive bit of staging has long been a staple of British rep companies.
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Rather, Deckelbaum’s adaptation asserts its originality in bringing Mamillius back from the dead after he has pined away from grief to see his father falsely accuse his mother of adultery and banish her from the kingdom. Stepping into the central role of narrator and assuming dialogue originally written for other characters, the ghostly child rewrites the sad story of his parents’ breakup in order to bring them back together.
Besides solving the problematical ending of the play by presenting it as a child’s fantasy, the boy’s fairy-tale solution of a marital reunion is also psychologically sound — the wish of every child of a broken home.
Since Mamillius is himself a fantasy, young Raum-Aron’s remarkably assured, but rather expressionless delivery seems appropriately eerie, instead of alienating. The pity is that Deckelbaum misses his opportunity to let the kid show his grief over his father’s unjust treatment of his mother. Although he allows Mamillius on stage to witness the angry, even violent domestic scenes that give the child nightmares, helmer opts for an overall blank stare that fails to dramatize his emotional reactions.
As the imaginary playmates of a narrator who is both a child and a ghost, the other thesps have their work cut out for them. Meg Howrey does the best job of projecting Mamillius’ fantasy of his mother by playing Hermione as mythic-mother – an idealized goddess with a silver-bells voice and an ethereal beauty not long for this world. The same thesp’s Perdita lines up with the rest of the ensemble perfs: well-articulated but uninspired.
Given the confining stage space, the creatives do an admirable job of giving visual definition to Mamillius’ surreal fantasy. Set designer Sandra Goldmark uses a narrow bed, a few toys, and stacks of painted blocks to keep the scenes grounded in the realm of a child’s imagination. Hillary Manners contributes a supple lighting scheme in which the ice-blue shades of winter give way to the pale sun of spring and, eventually, to the riotous reds and golds of summer.
In keeping with this child’s-eye view of the world, Camille Assaf’s costumes incorporate elaborate headpieces and other exotic elements that make ordinary grownups look a bit like toys.