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The Winter's Tale
Tom McCamus and Lucy Peacock
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The Winter's Tale
Charlie Gallant and Sarena Parmar
THE WINTER’S TALE by William Shakespeare (Groundling Theatre/Coal Mine Theatre, 1454 Danforth). Runs to February 20, Tuesday-Sunday 7:30 pm, February 13 at 1 pm. $35, rush $30, groundling (cushion) seats $20, limited Sunday pwyc. groundlingtheatre.com. Rating: NNNN
One of Shakespeare’s last plays, The Winter’s Tale starts in tragedy and ends in rejoicing.
In the hands of director Graham Abbey and his talented group of actors, Groundling Theatre’s inaugural production is a first-rate show, an emotionally moving and richly told story.
King Leontes of Sicily (Tom McCamus) and his queen, Hermione (Michelle Giroux), host his boyhood friend Polixenes (Patrick Galligan), king of Bohemia. Suddenly jealous of a perceived affair between Polixenes and Hermione, Leontes plots to kill his fellow ruler, but Polixenes flees with the help of the good-hearted Camillo (Roy Lewis).
Leontes accuses Hermione of adultery and proclaims her newborn daughter a bastard. The queen collapses and is declared dead by her supporter, Paulina (Lucy Peacock); the king orders the infant be taken away and abandoned.
Sixteen years later in Bohemia, we meet Perdita (Sarena Parmar), who’s been raised by a shepherd (Robert Persichini) and his clownish son (Mark Crawford). This ostensible shepherdess loves Polixenes’s son Florizel (Charlie Gallant), much to his royal father’s dismay.
With the unwitting help of the roguish Autolycus (Brent Carver) and the intentional plotting of Paulina, families are united and lovers joined in this evocative tale of repentance and forgiveness.
Intimately staged in the Coal Mine Theatre, Abbey’s production, which cuts some of the text and moves other scenes around, ensures that the sometimes dense language is clear and precise. This is a venue where a whisper really is a whisper and can be heard everywhere. His troupe of warm and generous actors, many from Shaw and Stratford, give assured, nuanced performances.
McCamus’s jealous king first allows shadows of discomfort to cross his face before he becomes properly scary, while Giroux’s resonant-voiced queen is regal and strong, even in adversity. Galligan’s angry tyranny in the second half properly echoes Leontes’s earlier, and Peacock’s magisterial healer/magician contributes to some of the play’s best scenes, especially her confrontations with Leontes in the first act and her curing actions in the second.
Carver, who never fails to charm, not only gets to play comedy but also to sing, and it’s thrilling to share a small space and make eye contact with this Autolycus, who manipulates high-born and low.
While the comic performances (including those of Persichini and Crawford) are skilled, the sheep-shearing scene in Bohemia is too long, even with cuts. I always wish we could move on more quickly to the last episodes.
But that’s a quibble, especially given the enchantment of the last scene, which Abbey, his cast and lighting designer Steve Lucas conjure in such potent fashion that the audience holds its collective breath to see what will happen.
There’s also a fine contribution by composer George Meanwell, whose melancholy cello melodies in Sicily and lively fiddle-playing in Bohemia capture the tone of each kingdom.
Though the production is largely sold out, some online tickets may be released the day of performance. There are also rush seats for walk-ups at every show, as well as groundling seating: cushions on the floor. The latter gesture is, in part, a nod to Elizabethan theatres, where the cheapest tickets (bought by groundlings) provided standing room right in front of the stage. Here you sit close to the stage; happily, you can also lean against a wall.