May 5, 7, 9 at the Loeb
THE WINTER'S TALE, as presented by Daniel Seltzer's Humanities 105 students, has a severe split personality. It seemed at times as if two plays, loosely coordinated, were being offered the audience. Play number one (starting at 8:30 p. m.) was an ordinary, formally staged tragedy of jealousy. Play number two (which entered the lists about 9:50 p. m. and held sway until the post-midnight finale) was an airy pastorale. A fourth of the audience opted out by the second intermission.
Given the unusual length of Shakespeare's play and its bewildering flux between serious and fantastic themes, director Seltzer's first task was to condense and unify the action. The whole production ultimately flounders because he and his actors cannot fabricate a larger coherency out of this diffuse material. The net result is chaotic, although somewhere in all the dense overflow of rich color and sentiment, there were elements of genuine merit.
Leigh Woods' portrayal of King Leontes was one excellent feature of this production. He dominates the opening third of the play which centers around the suspected infidelity of his queen Hermoine and his brother King Polixenes of Bohemia. Leontes's jealous rage leads to his wife's execution (only faked as we later discover) and the banishment of her infant child. Perdita, Fair Perdita grows up in the care of simple shepherds, while her father exercises his sins in stern contrition.
After an eighteen year lapse, which even Seltzer's mellifluous reading of the part of Father Time cannot spare from incredibility, we are treated to the spectacle of Perdita's youthful love for Florizel, the son of Polivenes, her father's brother and amorous rival. Here the production shoots off in the direction of excess.
I checked my watch and my ticket; yes. I was still at The Winter's Tale and, yes, the play already long seemed likely to prove even longer. Suddenly, the stage was mobbed with thirty of forty shepherds, shepherdesses and musicians, all decked out in Krackeriacks finery. This was youth, this was regeneration-this was a total fiasco.
The play reinforces my earlier prejudice against the undisciplined use of rock music in a non-musical play. The music was incongruous in context and dragged on through six consecutive ballads (each thoroughly modernized). Then, about a dozen men, the Satyrs, rushed in-bare-cheated with funny fur-trimmed pedal pushers-to dance a lascivious, arm-flailing ritual. I felt suddenly nostalgic for the famous sheepshearing scene in The Winter's Tale that I always had been told was life affirming and graceful. I tried to single out Perdita and Florizel in the crowd and my eye fell on them gleefully huddled near the rock band, sharing a joint.
My discontent with Seltzer's production would surely have been heightened had I been able to muster more respect for the play itself. The Winter's Tale. despite its current vogue in literary circles, is in my opinion a seriously limited play. The princely bickering and love-feuds etched out in the first scenes invite superficial melodrama. The switch to a pastoral nexus in the middle third is abrupt enough, even without the equation between a Golden Age and the Age of Aquarius.
FOR THE sake of plot and to round out Shakespeare's theme of reconciliation, the play has to end in a courtly setting. Back in the kingdom of Sicilia, Leontes is reunited with his wife and his long-lost daughter, Perdita, Imagine the final scene: the persecuted queen is on a pedestal frozen in a statue pose. Enter Leontes with full court procession. Lo, the statue moves. Queen Hermione kisses Leontes, then embraces Perdita. Thus far, the sentiments seem as bogus as the stage mechanism. In answer to the general call for "light libations," all the company extras stream onstage from different directions, eagerly awaiting their cue before launching on a final dance-spree.
Of the large cast, only Dana Ferry as Hermione's lady and Sarah Stearns as Perdita match Leigh Wood's exceptional performance. Carol Potter as Hermione was extremely attractive but a bit pompous, Jason Kanter's inspired portrayal of Autoclycus made the pastoral segments less dull. The rest of the company showed admirable enthusiasm.
But I was disappointed by the production, for it seemed a curious hybrid between traditional Shakespeare and obtrusive innovations, draining its energy on gratuitous display. The length of Shakespeare's play does not admit digression; the hiatus left by the youth-spring revellings in the middle of the production proved fatal to the impact of The Winter's Tale.