denton — Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale is a foreboding fable of ruler’s folly, where whims mean woe but miraculously turn out OK in the end.
Nowhere is that better exampled than Tashina Richardson’s adaptation onstage at Sundown Collaborative Theatre entitled (The Winter’s Tale). The parentheses are her attachment, alluding to the heavy influence and inclusion of the Sigur Ros album ( ).
So influenced are the proceedings that some scenes are truncated or filled in with modern dance to fit with the album’s songs. It’s a broad brush to use on an intricate work by the acknowledged master of our language. Not as broad as King Leontes accusing his wife, Hermione, of adultery when he sees her talking to his friend, but when director Richardson asserts that Shakespeare’s words are as open to interpretation as Sigur Ros’ gibberish language, there’s a similar Danish smell.
Shakespeare’s hard on rulers and directors alike, it seems.
Especially when it comes to the fallout amongst the faithful followers. After a handy opening insertion of second act Autylocus (Robert Linder) as narrator, King Leontes (Nicholas Ross) and King Polixenes (Paul Vaughn) engage in a very long dance choreographed by director Richardson. It sums up their relationship, but leaves them sweating and struggling to regain their breath for their first lines. As challenging as that is, it pales in comparison to the “exit, pursued by a bear” dance fight between Antigonus (Collin Miller) and the aforementioned bear. Ross trades in his cast uniform of bare feet and stretchy dance pants for a bear-themed onesie worthy of a kid’s homemade Halloween costume. The initial laughs it garnered on entering were soon quashed by their serious approach to another lengthy dance.
And that’s what makes the difference at Sundown Collaborative Theatre.
Commitment is their greatest credit. Each member is clearly stretching and striving. At times, the gap between reach and grasp remains, but rarely will you see Shakespeare so bravely grappled as Melissa Karol in both her passionate Paulina, stalwart defender of Hermione and silly Shepherd, finder of the baby left by the bear-eaten Antigonus. From full-throated tragedian to shuffling clown, hers is a dual role transformation from nose to toes.
Ross’ Leontes is aggressively agonized by his capricious denouncement of his wife and Vaughn is impressively fervent as the other king who narrowly escapes with the help of the ever-opportunistic Camillo (Collin Miller). None of them manage text as well as Richardson, however, who, though she takes the role of Hermione cuts some of the character’s famous passages in favor of a dramatic music-bathed onstage birth.
And, then, sometimes, the whims work. After intermission, 16 years later in playtime, the budding romance of the Shepherd’s foundling daughter, Perdita (Bethany Burnside) and Polixenes’ son, Florizel (Chris Taylor) is embodied beautifully and completely in wordless dance. Here, Richardson’s choreography and concept find their feet, lightly, lithely. It’s worth the wait. The moment is beautifully ripe for ruining by (true to Shakespeare’s message) a ruler, this time Polixenes, who disapproves of his son marrying a commoner.
The final movement and greatest test of any production of this play takes place back where it began, in the court of Leontes and requires a statue to transform this tragedy back into a comedy. Director Richardson chooses to stage the fardel wrap up that is customarily only described. It’s actually more effective in dumb show than the final statue transformation is with text. For that miraculous scene the cast is static in an awkward configuration until the pivotal moment. The big questions of whether this is a miracle, magic or just Paulina’s machinations are ignored in favor of the warm fuzzies of a reconciliation/restoration of the royal family unit, however rocky it looks to be going forward. The question this production seems more poised to ask is “to dance or not to dance.”
When the title reduces Shakespeare to a parenthetical, the answer’s clear.
» Performances through Oct. 12 are at the Green Space Arts Collective in Denton; Oct. 17-19 is at Rockin' Rehearsal, 1430 Regal Row, Suite 340, Dallas.