Watching “A Noise Within’s” interpretation of Shakespeare’s “The Winter’s Tale” on opening weekend, it’s easy to think of both the distant past and the current day presidential crisis. Under the direction of Geoff Elliott, the play takes place in the elegant 1920s, and gives us plenty to consider about how the 2020s began.
“The Winter’s Tale” is considered one of Shakespeare’s “problem” plays. The first three acts are the tragic and harsh “winter.” The last two acts bring us to a light and airy romance of spring.
The catalyst for the tragedy is a jealous king. Leontes (Frederick Stuart), King of Siciliy, asks his friend Polixenes (Brian Ibsen), King of Bohemia, a long-time friend to extend his already nine-month stay. Leontes asks his heavily pregnant queen, Hermione (Trisha Miller), to entreat his friend to stay. After she convinces Polixenes to change his mind, Leontes suspects the queen and his friend are lovers and the child she will bear is not his, but his friend’s. Leontes asks the Sicilian nobleman Camillo (Jeremy Rabb) to assassinate Polixenes, but Camillo warns Polixenes and, with him, flees.
Hermione is then left to confront her jealous husband who now wonders if their young son, Mamillius (Jayce Evans) is his.
Hermione gives birth to a girl and the king then bids Antigonus (Alan Blumenfeld) to take the child away. Leontes sends to the Delphi Oracle to get the truth, but puts his wife on public trial before the answer comes. Although the Oracle’s statement proclaims the queen chaste and the king’s friends innocent, Leontes dismisses it as “a mere falsehood.” His son suddenly dies, and Hermione, after fainting when she hears the news, is reported dead by her friend, Antigonus’ wife, Paulina (Deborah Strang). Leontes begs forgiveness to Apollo for not believing his Delphi Oracle, and realizes that Camillo was right to flee and save his friend, but now he realizes it is too late to recall his remaining child.
When Antigonus deserts the child on Bohemia, the baby is found by a shepherd (also played by Blumenfeld) and his son (Eric Flores). Sixteen years later, the child has grown into Perdita (Gulner) who falls in love with Polixenes’ son and heir, Florizel (Alexander De Vasconcelos Matos). Polixenes forbids this love match, but Camillo intervenes and secretly sends the lovers with a letter of introduction to the court of his former lord, Leontes. Everything will be sorted out and the young lovers will bring the friends back together.
As director Elliott navigates the troubled waters of this problem play well enough. Stuart transitions well from the angrily jealous man to the repentant king, humbled by his wrong-doings.
Miller’s wife retains her sense of dignity even when her Hermione is reduced to wearing rags and then becomes a statue of nobility wronged. Rabb’s Camillo shines with honesty and goodwill as his character becomes the moral compass for two kings.
In the press notes, Elliott explains the play has been “streamlined” in order to make the “core story of Leontes’ transformation” more accessible, “without losing any of the fairytale enchantment that permeates the story.”
To an Elizabethan audience, the wrongly accused queen would likely draw comparisons to Anne Boleyn, the mother of Queen Elizabeth I. In today’s Trumpland post-impeachment climate, one can’t but admire the honesty and courage of Camillo and wish the impeachment had humbled some members of the GOP.
“The Winter’s Tale” continues until April 11 at A Noise Within, 3352 E. Foothill Blvd., Pasadena. Tickets begin at $25. For more info call (626) 356-3121 or visit ANoiseWithin.org. Running time: 2 hours and 35 minutes, including one 15-minute intermission.