Hied I, to the Shakespeare Theater in the District to see The Winter’s Tale, a play I knew nothing about and deliberately did not research because I wanted to see if Shakespeare could still be deciphered in this American Idol world. And, well, yeah, I do have some passing acquaintance with the guy and did read the program synopsis, but Tale is lesser Shakespeare and no memorable line from it comes to mind, so it felt like a level playing field.
And now I know why it is lesser: man, what a bummer of a play. I felt like crap when it ended.
Not because of the performance; oh no, STC was up to its usual standards. The play was directed by Rebecca Taichman, who did an outstanding job with an earlier Taming of the Shrew, and included one of my favorite STC actors, Tom Story, who was a scream in The Government Inspector and proved another scream as Clown in this one. But, I tell ya, Mark Harelik absolutely stole the show. The guy was freakin’ amazing, doing complete role changes right before your eyes, putting on an absolutely hilarious performance as the grifter, Autolycus, and an absolutely stunning performance as Leontes, the King, who should have been on Librium. Maybe this whole thing wouldn’t have happened.
And that’s what makes this whole play such a bummer—the events just shouldn’t have happened. Three deaths, two kingdoms torn apart, two lifelong friends now enemies, sorrow and tragedy simply because Leontes took counsel of his own delusions. Man. So unnecessary. And, yeah, there’s a magical ending and everything’s okay, now, but, no it’s not. It’s never going to be. The course of lives was diverted for nothing more than a misperception, with so many following years of tragedy. The bird with the broken wing does not fly so high, and this is a whole flock of broken-winged birds struggling to reach an altitude of peace, always just out of reach. And, yeah, Leontes suffers his own penance through those same years but, dude, it was all just so unnecessary.
The last scene, where the stone rebukes Leontes in the form of Hermione’s statue, got me the most. First of all, the beautiful Hannah Yelland played the doomed queen with such a level of astonished injustice that she just about stole the show from Harelik. If Shakespeare had given her one more scene, then she would’ve. But as the statue, frozen, tragic, she became a monument to how one man can affect so many lives so badly. Even when she is restored to life and kingdom, she bears the cracks across her face forever.
What a bummer.