The Winter's Tale is not one of William Shakespeare's tightest or most powerful plays. Its parts fit uncomfortably together, and it can be a challenge keeping up with who is doing what to whom in which country. But it has its playful amusements, and it is a powerful study of the effects of untamed jealousy over a lifetime and the strange twists it can set in motion.
The Winter's Tale is particularly interesting in contrast to Othello, where the terrible passion destroys everything like a tornado, and no ultimate reconciliation is possible. In The Winter's Tale, King Leontes of Sicilia turns against his wife, Hermione, tries her for treasonous adultery with the visiting King Polixines of Bohemia, then falls into remorse when she apparently dies upon learning that her young son has perished while she was imprisoned.
Hermione's body is taken up by her great friend Paulina, whose husband is a courtier to Leontes. But Hermione has only swooned; Paulina takes her home and hides her for 16 years while Leontes grieves (fortunately, we don't have to suffer along—it is simply announced that time has passed), in order to produce her at the end like a rabbit out of a hat. The strongest characters in Bare Theatre's new staging of the play are these two women, and although we don't see as much of them as we would like, they light up the somewhat uneven production. Heather J. Strickland (formerly Hackford) is lovely as Hermione—both as the happy, serene young queen and the wronged innocent defending her honor in court. Paulina, very well played by Rebecca Blum, is the friend everyone would wish to have. It is fascinating to compare the relationship of Hermione and Paulina with that of Desdemona and Emilia in Othello. Where Emilia is weak and complicit in the wrongly accused Desdemona's destruction, Paulina is resourceful and active, preserving her friend's life (as Fate preserves Hermione's lost daughter, Perdita).
Not only does she quietly show the workings of true friendship as Paulina, Blum speaks her lines well, her voice low, melodious and clear in the difficult acoustics of Common Ground Theatre when the stage is bare—as it always is for Bare Theatre's minimalist workings of Shakespeare's texts. They do have music and sketchy costumes, but there's never anything but a bench or two in the way of set. Without furniture or rugs, unmodulated voices bounce off the walls and hard concrete floor, sometimes turning whole passages into noise. This will probably not be an issue at the Sertoma Amphitheatre, where the show moves Oct 8–10.
Bare Theatre is joined by The Delta Boys in presenting this play, and it is directed by Delta Boy Lucius Robinson. Keeping up visual interest and preventing static ho-hum is quite a task when there is no set and no particular reasons for characters to move here or there. Robinson has created some nice choreography, especially in the large group scenes in the first act, which gives action to a lot of talk. He shows less control in the unnecessarily manic Clown/ Rogue scenes (Todd Buker, also bouncing off the walls), and he keeps his Leontes (Loren Armitage) tamped down, not as manic as he could be, while his Polixines (Stefan Schuette) gets too rowdy. But Robinson has breathed life into this awkward play, and it rewards a viewing.