Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival delivers a bittersweet, color-drenched Winter’s Tale

winters-tale-@Sad to say, the summer arts festival season is winding down, with many of the mid-Hudson’s annual cultural mainstays already wrapped up for 2015. But you still have a couple more weeks to catch one or more of the fabulous outdoor performances put on at spectacular Boscobel in Garrison by the Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival (HVSF). Last month Almanac Weekly reviewed the troupe’s innovative five-person production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream; here’s a bit of what to expect if you act now and grab tickets for one of the final performances of The Winter’s Tale on August 23, 26 or 29.

Traditionally, William Shakespeare’s plays have been divided up into the categories of comedies, tragedies and histories. But as he moved toward the end of his career, the great playwright apparently began to feel dissatisfied with black-and-white happy or sad endings. His “late romances” tend to mix up their emotional tones more than his earlier works and feature more morally ambiguous heroes and villains. Based on Robert Greene’s 1588 prose romance Pandosto, The Winter’s Tale does this in spades: The first three acts, set in Sicilia, are very dark, while the fourth and fifth acts, set in Bohemia, are light and zany.

Like the jealousy-maddened Moor in Othello, King Leontes of Sicilia (Thomas Michael Hammond) becomes unjustly convinced that his wife Hermione (Francesca Choy-Kee) has been unfaithful with his best friend, King Polixenes of Bohemia (Jason O’Connell), and that the baby that she is carrying is not his own offspring. Leontes puts Hermione in prison, and she is reported dead by her waiting-woman Paulina (Gabra Zackman) shortly after the king orders his servant Antigonus (Triney Sandoval), Paulina’s husband, to abandon Hermione’s newborn daughter in some wilderness to die. Eventually Leontes is persuaded of his wife’s innocence by a message from the Oracle of Delphi, but by then it is too late for him to do anything but repent. Off to a cheery start, no?

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But in classical literature as in fairy tales, infant princes and princesses left to be devoured by wild beasts or cast upon the waves have a remarkable talent for getting rescued and brought up in happy poverty, ignorant of their true parentage. So Act IV introduces us to Perdita (Susannah Milonzi), now 16, raised by an Old Shepherd (Nance Williamson) and about to plight her troth to Florizel (Babak Tafti), King Polixenes’ disguised son. This announcement is supposed to be made at a sheep-shearing festival, which is infiltrated by a clever, scoundrelly pickpocket/peddler named Autolycus (Mark Bedard).

It is here, in perhaps the most Bohemian of Bohemias ever to grace a stage, that the color palette of the HVSF production of A Winter’s Tale switches from somber black-white-and-grey formal wear to a riotous patchwork of hippie garb (props to the costume design crew for their terrifically mismatching ensembles of lurid thrift-store finds), while the tone of the play changes abruptly from court tragedy to pastoral comedy. By the end, divided families are reconciled, though some tragedies cannot be amended. It’s not quite the kind of wrap-up that one expects from the lighter side of Shakespeare, with all loose ends neatly tucked and tied; and uncharacteristically, much of the resolution happens offstage, reported secondhand by witnesses.

Under the direction of the Festival’s new artistic director, Davis McCallum, HVSF does a fabulous job with this “problem play,” vividly punching up the contrasts between first and second half rather than trying to gloss them over. The company’s acting is splendid as ever: The redoubtable Williamson is hilarious in drag; Bedard hams it up winningly as he cons and cozens the simple shepherds; and when Zackman is onstage, you can’t take your eyes off her commanding presence.

All in all, you’re in for a highly entertaining evening if you move fast and catch The Winter’s Tale before it’s gone. Ticket prices vary depending of day of the week and seating location. To order, visit https://hvshakespeare.org/whats-playing/buy-tickets.html. All performances begin at 7:30 p.m.

 

Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival presents The Winter’s Tale, Saturday, August 29, 7:30 p.m., $22-$73, Boscobel House & Gardens, 1601 Route 9D, Garrison; (845) 265-3638, https://hvshakespeare.org.

 

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