The 2010 Stratford Festival: The Winter's Tale and The Tempest.
In Maraden's Winter's Tale, produced on the long, narrow thrust stage of the Tom Patterson Theatre, Ben Carlson's King Leontes displays the sexual insecurity of a politically powerful man and its horrific consequences: the destruction of the domesticity he values most. In the tragic movement set primarily in Sicilia, Carlsons Leontes slid precipitously and credibly from friendship and domestic bliss into frothing jealousy. His ill-conceived passion, full of ranting and violent movement, pits itself against powerfully attractive images of domesticity generated by Hermione, the strong, self-possessed woman who creates his sense of home. Carlson provided a visual and verbal representation of the "tremor cordis" (1.2.112) Leontes experiences as, Othello-like, he observes the innocent, friendly hand-holding, done at his urging, between his loyal wife Hermione and his boyhood friend King Polixenes. (1) In his portrayal of a man cuckolding himself, he vibrated physically and verbally as he heated himself to boiling point. Parading around the stage's perimeter like a raging bear at the stake, his jealousy fueled a sputtering tirade against women as he lectured the audience and his innocent young son on the licentiousness of a "slippery" wife (1.2.275).
Dealing with the beast inside is, of course, a Shakespearean theme, and this Winter's Tale finds the beast in the bear, using it as a trope to unify the production. Initially in a minor key, the figure of the bear helps establish an idyllic domesticity in Leontes's Sicilia, but later it represents the destructive power of male authority. In the production's opening sequence, the bear appeared first as a wooden toy in the hands of Leontes's son Mamillius who ironically will be destroyed by his father's monstrous jealousy. As Leontes and Polixenes reminisced nostalgically about their prepubescent boyhood friendship downstage center, Mamillius sat with his mother Queen Hermione, playing with the bear upstage, creating a sense of homey warmth. In the figure of Mamillius playing with the toy bear, Maraden links the bear with both the boyish innocence that Leontes and Polixenes nostalgically recall as well as with the terrifying male power that will ultimately undo the Sicilian home. As the action unfolds and Leontes descends into a paroxysm of sexual jealousy, the bear takes on a more sinister aspect as it comes to represent his inner demon.
Most famously, the bear appears almost dead center in the text (3.3.57) as a literal monster pursuing Antigonus, then rending his body. This production waxed Freudian, as the literal bear in the text is clearly an emanation of Leontes's id, his sexual jealousy and anger, that sends Antigonus ou his doomed voyage to dispatch Princess Perdita and that shakes the foundations of civilizing domesticity. When the play shifted from its tragic movement in passion-ruled Sicilia to the comic movement in pastoral Bohemia, the bear reappeared as a metaphor for male power. The Clown's comment about his fear of King Polixenes's potentially destructive anger at his son's wooing of a seeming shepherdess linked unrestricted male power and "authority" to "a stubborn bear" (4.4.773-4) and opposed it to the harmony of the pastoral and domestic represented by the union of Florizel and Perdita.
How to represent the famous bear that pursues Antigonus is always a challenging directorial decision, bur this production succeeded in making the bear integral to the theme of destructive male power. Though Shakespeare may have had access to a tame bear (and the audience may have had fresh in mind the ferocity of the bears in nearby bear-baiting arenas), modern productions have difficulty with fake bear-suited actors or expensive, mechanical bears (as in Peter Moss's 1978 Stratford production). Both alternatives are likely to provoke laughter from an audience rather than climax the play's tragic first movement. But this production struck the right note with a frightening, surreal apparition born in a storm's din and lightning. Two actors bound together as a fantastical monster, costumed in shining silver foil with a gigantic head that is mostly maw, and festooned with trailing silver "dreadlocks," leapfrogged acrobatically in tandem in breakneck pursuit of Antigonus. The effect was startling and frightening, a perfect climax to the tragic destruction of a domestic idyll by irrational male anger.
Throughout the production, Maraden carefully counterpoised the power of male aggression with the power of domesticity centered in female strength and virtue. Recapitulating the opening image of domesticity created by Yanna McIntosh's Hermione interacting with her son, Mamillius, Seana McKenna's small but powerful Paulina confronted Leontes with an image of maternal love and power as she stood cradling the newborn Perdita. Darting eyes and words spoken with a throaty, almost hoarse, power gave McKenna's Paulina a dominating presence that persuades all, except the tempest-tossed Leontes, of Hermione's love, loyalty, and innocence.
The three strong female leads in this production gave it gravity and delicacy. In the opening scenes, McIntosh's Hermione, as she persuaded Polixenes to tarry in Sicilia at her husband's request, is an empowered wife: a woman sure of her position and power. After Polixenes agreed to lengthen his stay, she almost smugly and seductively told her husband of her success. The trial scene, in which she is accused of adultery, revealed both her strength and vulnerability as she vainly defended herself against Leontes's unfounded bur passionately believed charges of infidelity. McIntosh used her statuesque physique and long, expressive arms to convey Hermione's pride as well as her vulnerability. At times during the trial she was erect, proud, certain; at other rimes, arms spread wide, she was vulnerable and rent violently by the futility of her defense. When Leontes even rejected the oracle's proclamation of her innocence, she collapsed monumentally. Diminutive though she is, McKenna's Paulina exuded power as she fumed against Leontes's unfounded anger; sometimes gloating, sometimes arch, she commanded the stage and Leontes's attention. But she also felt the pain of his remorse as they knelt together, bent with grief, joining hands across an empty space, bound together forever by the memory of Hermione's pain and humiliation. Cara Ricketts's Perdita was both innocent and sexually attractive, a source of vibrant life, smiling engagingly and beguiling the disguised Polixenes with literal and verbal flowers. Her carriage, brisk actions, and the clarity of her delivery left little wonder about her ability to attract Prince Florizel.
The challenges of staging Th Winter's Tale's quicksilver shifts in emotion and in tone, from tragic to comic, are well-known. Maraden handled the tonal transition with an effective and funny staging of the Chorus, Time. As Act Four opened, an absurdly funny choric Time appeared, dangling in space above the stage, and swung toward the various parts of the audience on a crane-like arm. He did a cartwheel in thin air when talking of his glass being turned, thus demonstrating Time's figurative power to "o'erthrow law" and "overwhelm custom" (4.1.8-9) as the play slid over sixteen years, moving from terror to joy. Time was a hiatus, a stoppage in the action, grabbing the audience's imagination. Its idiosyncratic and funny representation prepares for the shift to a world of springtime and flowers, populated not by Italianate passions but by pastoral innocence. Another daunting transition occurs at the play's climactic, final scene, the resurrection of Hermione, because it must balance and resolve the play's tragicomic tensions. It strains credibility yet must transcend doubts. This is the lesson, of course, that Leontes must learn. This production emphasized Hermione's transformation as a deeply human event that has the aspect of eternity rather than as a seemingly supernatural event. Maraden effectively balanced realism and magic. On the starkly set platform, upstage center (which in the Tom Patterson is very close to spectators on the sides of the elongated thrust stage), Paulina moved a simple curtain to reveal the statuesque McIntosh, her dark skin glowing against her white robe, frozen against a simple trellis-like grating flanked by a few burning tapers. While the moment has aspects of sacred ritual, the audience laughed at Leontes's comment that Hermione's statue is a perfect likeness but marked by the effects of time: "Hermione was not so much wrinkled" (5.3.28). Recognizing the power of time to change, he also recognizes the enduring warmth of the civilizing feminine. The resurrection of Hermione in this production finally tames the bear. As Hermione moved, family and friends reunite and domesticity reigns again.
In this Winter's Tale, costume, music, and ensemble dancing also helped create the contrasting worlds of an emotionally overwrought Sicilia and the more laidback, pastoral Bohemia. Leontes and his court in Sicilia wore dark costumes in tones of plum and gray, suggestive of Persia; the costumes in Bohemia tended to be bright, parti-colored, and vaguely Nepalese, but also reminiscent of hippie clothing, suggesting a world less bound by courtly courtesy and less uptight emotionally, a world harmonious but bordering on a pleasant anarchy. The musical numbers in Bohemia vibrated with Middle Eastern rhythms and instruments like the Persian sitar and drums; dance numbers recalled Bollywood spectacle and a Russian Cossack celebration--vigorous ensemble images of swirling color.
While The Winter's Tale used the bear trope to unify, McAnuff's The Tempest used the figure of the book to establish a central tension between power and compassion. The production opened with an image of Prospero's drowned book, as if the story we were about to see was a flashback. Before the typical opening storm, the vast Festival Theatre's stage was bate and dark except for a dim blue spotlight on a large medieval-looking book far down stage center. Suddenly, high above the stage, a small, compact iridescent figure moved headlong down, as if diving into the darkness of full five fathoms. As the figure reached the book, it took it up, reversed course, elevating the book like a sacred object, and swam into the darkness above. The ghostly diver is Ariel, redeeming the magic book just as she would help Prospero redeem his humanity in the course of the story to follow. With this opening recovery of the book, the production presents The Tempest's action as perhaps a cyclical ritual: the story of Prospero's redemption from revenge and the ultimate drowning of the obsession with egotistical power that the book represents.
Featuring Christopher Plummer, The Tempest was obviously a festival cash cow this year, a star vehicle. Refreshingly, Plummer's Prospero was a nuanced, humanscale portrayal. Though the anger that generated the opening storm seemed titanic, Plummer's Prospero leavened it in his interactions with other characters, with a sweet, paternal love in the case of Miranda, Ferdinand, and Ariel, and with a sad and sighing familiarity in the case of his betrayers, Sebastian, Alonzo, and Caliban. Plummer's Prospero is a novel portrayal in my experience of The Tempest. Several physically imposing actors have played Prospero using not just cloaks, books, and staffs but also bulk and bellowing to suggest his power. Plummer, a rather slight man, refreshed the role with a sort of world-weariness and comic distance that lighten his anger. Railing against Ariel's premature concern for promised freedom, Plummer's Prospero paused briefly, then became conciliatory, kindly explaining his sternness and reasserting his promise. Later, when he revealed to Ferdinand and Miranda his blessing on their love, he momentarily became hot, warning Ferdinand against any premarital relations. But as both his daughter and her beloved stood chastened, heads downcast as if already caught in flagrante delicto, this Prospero sensed their chagrin and, again pausing briefly, delivered his next lines with a smiling paternal concern signaling to them that he was playing a necessary role and eliciting the audience's sympathy and laughter.
Trish Lindstrom's Miranda is nature's child. Both costume and manner bespeak her upbringing away from the deceptive mannered surfaces of the court. Clothed in an off-the-shoulder dress with tattered hem, with long, unkempt reddish hair, this Miranda was sensual, frank, and bold, direct in her wooing of the handsome Ferdinand and capable of soundly cursing Caliban. At one point, assisting Ferdinand in bearing an oversized log that is clearly phallic, she managed to seize the wooing initiative. Forcing him to stop working momentarily, she straddled the log like a shoe-less child on a primitive seesaw, leaning toward him, smiling as in the ecstasy of play. While frankly sexual, the moment was also refreshingly innocent. The difficulty, of course, in this nature-girl portrayal arises in the final chess-playing scene where she appeared diminished, somewhat subdued, sitting primly at the game board, dressed in a satin court gown, a vibrant character turned wooden symbol.
While the plotting courtiers moved within rather stock portrayals, effective but unremarkable, the three comic plotters--Caliban, Trinculo, and Stephano--stood out as colorful and curious. In this regard, they seem typical of Des McAnuff's directorial eccentricities. Often McAnuff has an interesting design or interpretive idea that provides memorable moments but is not always completely integrated into a coherent production concept. In the case of these three characters, McAnuff seems to be paying tribute to the postcolonial readings of The Tempest by making each a member of an oppressed or marginalized group. Geraint Wyn Davies's Stephano is a big, boisterous, drunken Scotsman fitted with a yellow and green tartan and tam; and Bruce Dow's Trinculo is tricked up foppishly as a sibilant, flabby homosexual man in a brilliant red velvet coat and flowing ruffled shirt. While their antics elicited laughter, they were cheap laughs, reactions to stereotypes that did little to forward a postcolonial perspective unless to show how oppression debases identity.
Dion Johnstone's Caliban, however, is a more complex, hybrid creature. Counterpoising Miranda, he represents the darker side of nature. From one angle, he seems half reptile, from another a half-naked savage, a slithering movie Indian with his Mohawk-like hair, a sometimes silly, sour Magua out of Last of the Mohicans. At times he was threatening as he slunk and scurried, lizard-like, on all fours around the stage. At other times he seemed pathetic, as he licked Stephano's foot or knelt, mouth gaping, to receive sack from Stephano's bottle. Unlike Trinculo and Stephano, who never escape the stereotypes impressed upon them, Johnstone's Caliban manages moments of redemption. After Prospero acknowledges "this thing of darkness " (5.1.278) his own, Caliban briefly stood erect, man-like. Later, as he rejected his own foolish notions of freedom and the sovereignty of his two confederates, he stood again, in open space on a small platform raised above his former stage positions, facing the audience. Stage position reinforced the dark and intimate connection between master and man as this small platform is one that Prospero had periodically occupied as he invisibly observed those he manipulated to salve his anger at injustice.
While Caliban represents Prospero's dark, vengeful identity, this production's Ariel powerfully counterpoises revenge and rebellion with a sober sympathy for human distress. McAnuff keeps the redemptive interaction between Plummer's Prospero and Julyana Soelistyo's Ariel central to this production; together onstage, they riveted the audience's attention. Soelistyo's Ariel is the best I have ever seen. Small, compact, athletic, with a throaty, clear, and powerfully expressive voice, she adds a surprising emotional range to Ariel, suggesting the energy of youth and the wisdom of age. This Ariel is male and female, young and old, and an effective alter ego to Plummer's periodically pensive Prospero. The critical role Ariel plays in the ultimate redemption of Prospero's humanity occurred quite simply in intimate and powerfully effective staging. On the downstage apron close to the audience, near each other, sat the old, grizzled man and the ageless spirit. The simple staging evoked an image of grandfather and grandchild at dusk on a summer day, a moment wrested from the frantic pace of Prospero's plotting. Ariel sat hugging her knees, feet propped on the apron edge, nearby bur not next to Prospero, both initially looking forward, as if biding time casually while they reflected on the distraction, "sorrow and dismay" of the characters suffering under Prospero's "charm" (5.1.14, 17). When Ariel remarked that were she human her affections "Would become tender" (5.1.19), she did so without emotional inflection. After a brief, reflective pause, Prospero reassumes his humanity, noting quietly as if responding to an inner voice: "And mine shall" (5.1.20). The undramatic staging ironically served to underscore the magnitude of the moment, the depth of the renunciation of revenge, as Prospero recognized his own fleeting mortality and chose the virtuous "rarer action" (5.1.27) of mercy.
Stratford's Tempest combined its low-keyed Prospero with spectacular effects suggesting his inner turmoil and power. To establish Prospero's omniscience, the production used quick blackouts and strobe lighting to position Prospero at varying platforms situated around the stage. He would appear on one platform observing his shipwrecked targets, then disappear, reappearing quickly on another platform. The versatile, technologically sophisticated Festival Theatre stage used elevators and a variety of trap doors to create a cave or an island slope. As Prospero conjured, the stage's innermost platform revolved, becoming his magic circle sprouting fires. To create the wedding masque, Plummer's Prospero sat center stage at a small harpsichord that blared electronic music to conjure up robotic, eight-foot-tall Stepford-wife goddesses in the left, center, and right stage exits. As he became more agitated when recalling the incipient rebellions still festering among the shipwrecked, the music rose, becoming discordant, and the goddesses disappeared in smoke as if immolated by his anger. In a play of theatrical wit, McAnuff uses this scene and the depiction of Prospero's elves and spirits to allude to sci-fi classics. Prospero at the keyboard recalls Dr. Morbius conjuring his own id in Forbidden Planet, and the elves, though appearing only briefly, tie Prospero's dark power to the sea, recalling the anthropomorphic fish monster in Creature from the Black Lagoon. Both allusions support the production's interpretation and add a bit of fun for pop culture cognoscenti.
(1.) All references to The Winter's Tale and The Tempest are from The Norton Shakespeare, 2nd ed., ed. Stephen Greenblatt et al. (New York: W. W. Norton, 2008).
Owen E. Brady, Clarkson University
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|Author:||Brady, Owen E.|
|Publication:||The Upstart Crow|
|Article Type:||Theater review|
|Date:||Jan 1, 2011|
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