Good to be the king

The Winter’s Tale

The king went off his nut.

The king went off his nut.

Rated 4.0

What can (should?) the people do when their king goes off his nut?

In The Winter’s Tale, King Leontes cruelly shatters his own family while horrified courtiers look on. Seized by paranoia, Leontes accuses pregnant wife, Hermione, of infidelity and has her imprisoned—separating her from their son Mamillius, who promptly falls seriously ill.

After Hermione gives birth to a girl, Leontes orders the baby abandoned in “a desert place.” Bad deeds don’t go unpunished (at least not in Shakespeare), and the birds come home to roost: By intermission, The Winter’s Tale resembles the conclusion of a full-blown tragedy, with Leontes zapped by remorse.

But then, everything changes. The story fast-forwards 16 years. The abandoned baby—who was miraculously adopted by a passing Bohemian shepherd—is now a gorgeous young woman, in love. Nature and passing years slowly soften the harsh outcomes of earlier events. A character called Time (played by Jorge Luis Morejón) literally serves as narrator.

British director Patricia Miller takes liberties (and why not? Shakespeare often did). Time, given a single monologue in the script, delivers lines scattered throughout the performance. Leontes’ court, ostensibly Sicilian, looks like London circa 1936. Mamillius (who Miller inserts as a spirit following his death) sings the Gustav Holst carol “In the Bleak Midwinter.” And rural Bohemia looks Balkan, with Romani (“gypsy”) nomads living in tents.

Equity performer Amy Louise Cole (an MFA candidate, playing the feisty Paulina) stands up capably to Leontes (Brett Duggan, sweaty during his mad scene). Elsewhere there are gender switches—wise counselor Camillo becomes dutiful, cautious Camilla (well played by Steph Hankinson).

Miller also works in surprises, like the fertility dance involving shepherds Jazz Trice, Mark Curtis Ferrando and Nathan Lessa (flashing taut young torsos to die for).

Not everything works. The play’s finale, while beautifully arranged, doesn’t quite embody the profound mystery and fulfillment that can make this a tear-inducing scene. And there are occasional moments when certain undergraduates in this UC Davis production perform like, well, undergraduates (that’s OK).

But overall, this is a thoughtfully planned, well-designed, effective production. Kudos to director, cast and crew.