Tackling one of the most challenging works in all of Shakespeare’s repertory, the Cape Ann Shakespeare Troupe staged a captivating “The Winter’s Tale” Friday evening in the Rogers Street Theatre.
“The Winter’s Tale” plays in the court, and in the countryside. There are shipwrecks, and a character chased (and eaten) by a bear. Statues come to life. Kings go mad, children are abandoned, friends fight with one another. And there’s still a happy ending.
All this takes some doing to realize onstage, and various productions of “The Winter’s Tale” have been ambitious flops. But when a sturdy group of dedicated actors examine the play with the energy that CAST did on this evening, good things happen.
Of course there was no bear, no castle, and no countryside in the black box at the Rogers Street Theatre. No matter. With this compelling script—Shakespeare, not at his most quotable, but certainly with his most concise, mature language—CAST made “The Winter’s Tale” come alive.
Director Ray Jenness had a robust roster of actors, and didn’t waste their energy. Top performances were turned in by Matt Recine as King Leontes of Sicilia; Mark Logan as his friend and counterpart, Polixenes, King of Bohemia; Sarah Fader as the stoic Queen of Sicilia; Annegret Reimer as her attending lady; and a host of actors in supporting roles.
They combined to make the semi-tragic, semi-pastorale, semi-magic and ultimately transformative story of Leontes' madness, and its resultant trail of misdeeds, flow beautifully.
Jenness had the actors play in modern dress; simple colored sashes distinguished the Sicilians from the Bohemians. The courtiers wore suits, while the country folk dressed in vernacular character. Props were modest: a sofa or chair to center the stage, a tree or a tower on the wall to indicate location. Blissfully, no attempt to bring a bear onstage, or shear sheep, was considered. The script was artfully shortened for concision.
This was late Shakespeare at work, with actors who knew the play and made their characters breathe. Recine especially had Leontes firmly in his grasp; he spoke Shakespeare with an ease and understanding that made you forget this language is half a millennium old. And his abrupt transitions to madness, and subsequently to deep remorse, felt organic.
Reimer and Fader as well, companions suffering as a result of the king’s madness, then surreptitiously maintaining faith, made demanding situations seem coherent. Reimer especially, in pivotal scenes that bring Leontes back to reality, pushed the plot along splendidly.
The strength of players in minor roles greatly helped in maintaining pace and cohesion. Jeph Ellis as the antic pickpocket (had to love his evocative songs, and hope CAST has paid its royalties to the Beatles for stolen melodies); Dylan Kerr and Dylan Fitzpatrick as young lovers; and Nathan Burgett as the enthusiastically dimwitted shepherd’s son; animated the action.
The recently opened Rogers Street Theatre holds great promise for community groups. Production ambitions will be limited—it is a black box, after all—but the space has an inviting feel, and limiting the playing space forces troupes to make the scripts come alive by virtue of the writing and acting. CAST offered a great example of how this gets done.
The Cape Ann Shakespeare Troupe presents “The Winter’s Tale” through Nov. 4 at the Rogers Street Theatre in Gloucester. Purchase tickets at the door or by email at email@example.com.