Dance of Death's David Strathairn (Dance of Death) and Barbara Garrick (A Thousand Clowns) star as the jealous, hot-blooded King Leontes and his wronged queen, Hermione, in the yarn about two kingdoms, the destructive power of inexplicable jealousy and the healing power of time.
Performances continue to Feb. 23. The cast is directed by CSC artistic director Barry Edelstein (The Underpants), who told Playbill On-Line the work is his favorite play by Shakespeare. He regards the staging as the highlight and culmination of his five seasons at the downtown not-for-profit devoted to reimagining classic works. He announced during previews that he would leave the company this summer to pursue free-lance work. This is the troupe's first Shakespeare play in 16 years.
"I made a promise to the board and myself when I was hired that my five-year plan was to get the theatre strong enough to do a full production of a Shakespeare," Edelstein told Playbill On-Line. "To me, I felt like you can't be a classic theatre company in the English language unless you're doing Shakespeare, so that was where I set the bar."
A late Shakespearean tragicomedy (some call it a "romance"), The Winter's Tale mixes laughs and pathos into the story of the jealous King of Sicily, Leontes, who believes his pregnant wife has been the lover of his best friend, King Polixenes of Bohemia. As his wife dies and his court crumbles, his infant daughter, Perdita, is spirited to Bohemia, where she grows up a shepherdess and falls in love with the King Polixenes' son, Florizel.
In the play's first scene, the Sicilian king's mind snaps and he suddenly accuses his wife of adultery with his best friend. It is a famous, unprovoked outrage that the text does not thoroughly support — though the queen is nine months pregnant and the friend has been visiting nine months. Does Edelstein try to justify the snap? Does he try to explain it?
"I absolutely do not try to justify it," Edelstein said. "I said to everybody on the first day, 'We're not going to explain it — it just happened.' When I ran the play for the first time, he became jealous in the sixth minute of the play. Then you've got two hours and 40 more minutes that are about the consequences of that jealousy. I added a whole party scene, which makes it longer. In Shakespeare's scheme of it, it happens on page four!"
Edelstein draws parallels to the story and the tragedy of Sept. 11. It's about an act of "humongous violence" and dealing with the consequences of that violence.
There is some backstory in the script "where you get a scene with him alone, in soliloquy, where you get insights into his psyche, talking about sex and women and his childhood, so the psychology of it is very rich," Edelstein said. "By the time the play is over you can construct a retrospective explanation of it. But I've seen productions of it where it's made clear Hermione is sleeping with Polixenes, where he's a paranoiac from the minute the curtain rises. I just thought, that's not right. The very fact is, it's inexplicable. When you look at the text, people say, 'What is this? How should this grow?' Somebody says, 'I know not.'"
Also in the cast are Teagle F. Bougere (Autolycus), Tom Bloom (Antigonus/Old Shepherd), David Costabile (Clown), Angel Desai (Emilia/Dorcas), Mark H. Dold (Cleomenes), Gene Farber (Florizel), Michel Gill (Polixenes), Andrew Guilarte (Dion), Larry Paulsen (Camillo), Elizabeth Reaser (Perdita), Michael Reid (Mamillius), Mary Lou Rosato (Paulina), Elizabeth Sherman (Mopsa) and Joaquin Torres (Jailer).
Contemporary classical composer Michael Torke ("Central Park Trilogy" with A.R. Gurney) composed original music for the production.
The text used in this production is based primarily on the Oxford World's Classics Edition, 1996, Stephen Orgel, editor. Approximately 450 lines have been cut.
Designers are Narelle Sissons (set), Mattie Ullrich (costume), Jane Cox (lighting) and Elizabeth Rhodes (sound).
Single tickets are $35-$50 with a half price discount for CSC members. Membership costs $30. Classic Stage Company is located at 136 East 13th St. and on the web at http://www.classicstage.com.