Mini-review – A Winter’s Tale – Propeller at Hampstead Theater

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What happens if you take the worst Shakespearean play ever and have it performed by the world’s best Shakespearean company?

That’s the question I was asking myself when I booked to see Propeller‘s A Winter’s Tale at the Hampstead Theater. I don’t buy that every play by the Bard is good: while he may hold as a poet, some things just don’t fly these days. And the ending of this play is just too far gone to be credible to me. It also is jarring in tone, being a sort-of comedy with themes that are better suited to Othello than Much Ado. Silly shepherds being gulled by a salesman OH HO HO um only remember just a few minutes back when a loyal and good man was being eaten alive by a bear? Or even just a few scenes ago when we saw a woman die because of her husband’s irrational jealousy? Wait I’m laughing so hard I can’t stand it! Or maybe it’s really a tragedy with a tacked on, Hollywood (or Dickensian) happy ending …

I can’t help but think that given the material, Propeller have hugely succeeded with this show, because they kept my focus throughout (even the horrible pastoral party scene, much enlivened by a drag Girl Scout) but also got me emotionally involved in the plot thanks to the top notch acting. Richard Dempsey broke my heart as Hermione, and Robert Hands was convincingly over the edge as Leontes.

And yet … and yet …

Even with the comedy sheep band of the second half of this show, I found most of the scenes in Bohemia irritating (the father/son confrontation excluded), and the final scene in the sculpture room just made me want to pull my hair out. WHAT oh WHAT was Shakespeare thinking? I could not suspend my disbelief to accept the ending of this play as anything other than a … well, these day I would have thought the studio had forced the director to add it, like Decker’s voiceover in Bladerunner. I walked out shaking my head, again. If you’re a Shakespeare completist, then this may be your best chance to see the least painful performance of this play possible, but I can pretty confidently now say that I will die and never again go back for a production of A Winter’s Tale.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Wednesday, July 11, 2012. It continues at the Hampstead until July 21st.)

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