Chicago Theatre Review
The Winter’s Tale – Promethean Theatre
The Winter’s Tale, one of Shakespeare’s rarely performed romances, is a story of forgiveness; a tale of rash decisions and the sweet balm of absolution that rarest and most wonderful of human traits, grace and mercy, can provide. The production proffered by the Promethium Theater Ensemble is also one of rash decisions (I’d like to know at what point someone thought that presenting The Bear through a movement sequence would be a good solution to an age old staging problem. Spoilers: it isn’t). But despite its rashness it still manages to touch the raw, beating heart of the script when it matters most.
Leontes (John Arthur lewis) king of Sicilia and husband to the peerless queen Hermione (Cameron Feagin) has a small problem: his childhood friend Polixenes (Jared Dennis), king of Bohemia, who after a lengthy holiday on Sicilian shores seems inclined towards Hermione, and she towards him. A wicked jealousy consumes the king, prompting him to take violent steps towards the death of his friend and dishonor of his wife. But, to prevent a showing of “Othello Redux”, the crafty lord Camillo (Nick Lake) and the commanding lady Paulina (Megan DeLay) set out to save the innocent and prevent Leontes from turning Tyrant.
While the production often falls short of lancing the linguistic beauty of the text (with notable exceptions, Lake and Feagin both carry of the verse with grace) director Brian Pastor does well in creating visual markers that speak volumes of the journey of penance so many of the characters must embark upon (movement sequence bears not with standing). The real triumph of the production comes in during the second, Pastoral half of the play. Usually an undercooked affair meant to carry us onward to the moving conclusion of so much sorrow, (we as audiences don’t really “get” the Pastoral vibe nowadays, as the bones of so many lackluster As You Like It’s can attest). But Pastor and his company manage to find in their humble Bohemian countryside as much passion and danger and grand tragic feeling as the Sicilian Court; largely thanks to Dennis’s Lear-like wrath and the young lovers Perdita (Paige Reilly) and Florizel (Peter Ash) adding deep anguish to their performances along with the obligatory love-sickness and confusion.
Another triumph for the production is it’s treatment of Leontes fall from grace. “Can someone who has done unspeakable wrong earn forgiveness?” Pastor asks in his directors quote; a question he then proceeds to tease out by showing the king’s groundless jealousies to be born from some kind of mental illness, or perhaps god-bourn curse, rather than simply, as many would, let it fly as the plot demands. In Lewis we find a kinesthetically alert Leontes, who falls from kingly stature to Gollum-ish madness: pretzeling himself up upon stools, clutching his ever-ready dagger, and displaying a frighteningly authentic collapse into catatonia (an inherited trait, apparently; Perdita also displays this violent love of the ground). Feagin’s Hermione plays up the silences of the character, of someone desperately trying to compute the fatal nonsense thrown at her and reply accordingly, and DeLay, while somewhat overly-grand, certainly captures the strength and craft of one of Shakespeare’s best-defined women.
Though not always so urgent and detailed as a really Stirling production would require, the Promethean Winter’s Tale is an honest telling. It keeps its through line, it’s great question, high flying throughout and presents the famed ending, so difficult to describe and so lovely to behold, with everything attending. All told, the show is a sound ship and if you “Bear” with it, you’ll find that once it gets its wind, it sails beautifully.
by Ben Kemper
11/14-12/13 Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays at 7:30, Sundays at 2:00
Athenaeum Theatre, 2936 N Southport Ave (near the Belmont Red Line Station)
Admission $22 general, $12 for students/seniors/children
To purchase tickets call 773 935-6875 or visit www prometheantheatre.org
To learn more about this or other productions visit www.theaterinchicago.com