From the dangers of courtly dalliance to the simplicities of the pastoral life, from consuming jealousy to pristine love, from the tragedy of the young killed to the comedy of the young married, The Winter's Tale poses the problem of numerous dualities, most simply death and rebirth, so often seen in Shakespeare's late plays.
The Romance poses problems in production as well; it has two marked shifts in tone, skims blithely through time, and in the last act brings Hermione back from the dead. But such things hinder the Summer School Players only slightly. Under the direction of Paul Schmidt they present a Winter's Tale which manages the seasonal shifts and emotional polarities with general grace and case.
Because of the structural and magical peculiarities, the audience is asked to use uncommon imagination in the final two acts. But if it must accept the passage of sixteen years in little more than sixteen lines and suppress disbelief at a statue become woman, in the three acts (until the first intermission), it needs only to be carried along by one of the best casts assembled at the Loeb this year.
Robed in sickly yellow, set against odd, motleyed columns, Daniel Seltzer as Leontes conveys a king's madness with convincing variations of tone. As laughter echoing through the palace seems to mock him, Seltzer's Leontes assumes an insane jealousy which if unfounded is nonetheless real. And from the harsh imperatives and angular poetry of winter to the more languid verse of a summer's resignation and remorse, he is often evocative and always controlled.
Leontes's rage must be induced by Hermione's playful (although to him seemingly important) jesting with Polixenes. As a queen well-schooled in the blandishments of courtly love, Lynn Milgrim's beguiling ways seem just flirtatious enough to arouse a suspicious husband. And if in the ensuing scenes, her composed fragility helps to set off the cruelty of the king, so Peter MacLean's strong and noble Polixenes offers a striking contrast as well.
These three are not alone in the excellence which marks the play's somber acts. Brian Norman has all the energy of the young prince Mamillius with unusual naturalness for someone so young; while Joan Tolentino as Paulina lightens the pervading gloom with her tart-tongued intimidation of Leontes and his lords. Only David Mills's Camillo could be improved substantially; extremely expressive, (he might show more teeth and fewer tonsils), he seems too weak (at times almost boobish) to be so trusted a counsel to both kings.
When the Summer Players shift into the comic, despite an increase in movement on stage, the pace slows surprisingly. Because of the abnormally swift passage of time, there is an understandable loss of continuity which accounts in part for the sense of slowness. But a welter of buccolic buffoonery only enhances the discontinuity which in a production of some length (running time is four hours) is regrettable. Schmidt might have cut the longish fourth act or at least dropped one of two dance sequences.
But David Rittenhouse as the rogue, Autolycus, and Bruce Kornbluth as the shepard more than compensate for these difficulties. Repleat with disguises, dialects, and wit, Rittenhouse continually befuddles the shepherd folk and has a great time in the process. So does the audience. Kornbluth muddles about with engaging senility as the creaky stepfather of Perdita. The young lovers, Perdita (Barbara Jean Friend) and Florizel (Louis Lopez-Cepero), are god although somewhat less than enchanting since they are a bit lost amid all the rustic revelry.
Still, despite its occasional weaknesses, the Loeb players present a remarkable production of one of Shakespeare's most unusual plays. Schmidt has taken an exceptional cast, thoughtful sets and costumes, and, at times, inspired lighting, and molded The Winter's Tale into a summer delight.