Wednesday, March 14, 2012

The Winter's Tale


The graduating class of the Case Western Reserve University/Cleveland Play House MFA Acting Program closed out their third year with a production of Shakespeare’s THE WINTER’S TALE. Their training is basically over and what’s next place for these students are tryouts, getting an agent, and going forth into the world of professional theatre.

Previous graduates of the program are now appearing both on and off-Broadway shows, cast in network television shows, and as cast members of Cleveland Play House productions.

Since the troupe has been working with visiting artist Geoff Bullen, the associate director of the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts in London, and has been involved in a three-week Shakespeare Text Intensive, it was rather disappointing that some of THE WINTER’S TALE cast had difficulty in developing clear and meaningful characterizations.

THE WINTER’S TALE is a comedy, though it is perceived by some literary experts as one of Shakespeare’s late romances, while others tag it as a problem play because it is filled with conflicts, which result in a conflict solving ending.

The story concerns the jealous King Leontes who believes that his wife is having an affair, and that her soon to be born child was fathered by King Polixenes, his childhood friend. As a result, one is poisoned, another imprisoned, and the newly born baby exiled. Doesn’t sound like a comedy? In the creative hands of Shakespeare anything is possible.

Because of its clear characters, comic twists and turns, and unity of plot, the play is an audience favorite. The script gets many, many professional and amateur productions.

A recent New York staging of the play was described as, “Scalding jealousy, hunger for revenge, young love in rapturous bloom, the soul-corroding sorrow of regret: all are evoked in the saturated colors.” Unfortunately, few of these words can be used to describe much of the CWRU/CPH MFA production.

Director Geoff Bullen’s staging is marked by some fine character development and clever gimmicks, but also by excessive shouting, languid pacing, and much surface level acting. Sly use of the Teddybear’s Picnic Song highlights a fine comic segment. The blocking keys much of the dramatic and comic action. But all is not well in either Sicilia, where the play is set, nor in the Helen Rosenfeld Lewis Bialosky Lab Theatre, where the production is being staged.

Andrew Gorell, who has been excellent in previous productions, continues to be fine in comedic scenes, but loses his believability in dramatic moments. Dan Hendrock seems to believe that acting means yelling with little character texturing. French born Yan Tual is very difficult to understand. If he plans to work in U.S. theatre, he needs to work of American English pronunciation. Michael Herbert has matinee idol good looks, but doesn’t display the acting chops to go with his physical presence.

The females of the company are all strong. Kim Krane, Eva Gil and Kathryn Metzger are excellent, while, Kelli Ruttle is outstanding. Each appears to be ready for their entrance into the professional world.

CAPSULE JUDGMENT: A WINTER’S TALE is a disappointing production. So much more should be expected from a group of actors who have spent three years polishing their craft under excellent guidance.