The Winter's Tale
nytheatre.com review by Mitchell Conway
February 20, 2009
Simon Russell Beale gives an incomparable performance as Leontes in The Bridge Project's production of The Winter's Tale, directed by Sam Mendes. In fact, every performance is marvelous. The design components are stunning. This show is remarkable!
Once the seed of jealousy is planted in Leontes's mind, every movement his wife makes, every denial made by his closest advisors, nourishes the baseless suspicion that his pregnant wife and a friend from his youth have been having an affair behind his back. Nothing can satisfy jealousy. It begs to discover that which would be most painful. All rational evidence to the contrary of its fears is discarded as a distraction or deception.
Simon Russell Beale's performance embodying this struggle is beyond the descriptive terms I have at my disposal. From his first wide-eyed solitary moment when the jealous thought takes hold, he owns the gravity of his paranoia, while exhibiting the ridiculousness of his groundless obsession in such a manor that it at times evokes laughter. How he is able to harbor such an intelligent comedic sense while the green-eyed monster conquers his entire being I cannot be sure. His wildly original choices, his free, alive movements through space, and his unmatched dexterity with language, are all a profound privilege to witness.
After Hermione's trial, featuring an especially magical moment where the Oracle's prophecy is written by a lone feather onto the table; a well executed death at the hand of a bear; and Leontes's loss and regret, The Winter's Tale takes an odd turn. Leontes's abandoned daughter Perdita is adopted by a shepherd, played by the delightful Richard Easton, whose entrance marks a relieving tone shift. The story shifts away from Leontes, jumps forward 16 years, and essentially a new story is born, in sheep-shearing Bohemia.
Gladly, it features Ethan Hawke as the charmingly roguish Autolycus. The lovable con man plays a number of enjoyable tunes on the guitar, mounts a cross, and demonstrates his ability to take on a multitude of personalities. Hawke owns every moment where he is present and every atom of space around him.
The beautiful set, designed by Anthony Ward, is dotted in the background with candles to start, then switches to an epic storm backdrop, followed by the blue sky and balloons of the sheep-shearing festival. A dance involving balloon breasts and phalluses is surprising, but logical as a plot point. Every major scene transition is an elegant event on its own. Even in the campy festival, there is not a moment without beauty.
The sound design by Paul Arditti provides subtle yet effective music that contributes especially well to the build-up of tension in Leontes.
The unquenchable fire of jealousy. Suspicion ringing in the ears. How does one put out burning jealousy? True paranoia, where every action returns to the thought of betrayal, every gesture suggests it, seems perpetual. Once the jealous thought has embedded itself in Leontes's mind, there is nothing anyone can do to expel the suspicion. No rational argument can assuage the jealousy grating on his mind. Leontes destroys his family, but in the end, is able to ask for forgiveness. Director Mendes wisely lets us decide if his suffering is redemptive.