I was hesitant to purchase a ticket for the opening night performance of Rebecca Taichman’s production of Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale at McCarter Theatre in Princeton. Would the actors take the stage enthusiastically, or still be working out the kinks? But my initial concern was abated as the performance commenced.
Taichman opted for modern costuming, designed by David Zinn, and had the nine actors play two roles each: one as a character in Sicilia and the other as a Bohemian. This directorial decision tested the actors’ skill at drastically shifting persona and memorizing twice the dialogue.
I must say, they were all quite impressive, but Mark Harelik, who took on the roles of Leontes and Autolycus, was my favorite. Fans of the television series, “The Big Bang Theory” will recognize him as Dr. Gablehauser, the head of the Physics Department!
As in the text, the play opened in Leontes’ palace in Sicilia. The stage took on a somber hue with darker costumes and subdued lighting. Whenever Leontes had a soliloquy, the lighting would dim leaving a sole spotlight focused on Harelik, as a humming sound resonated in the background. This mimicked the disturbance in Leontes’ mood as jealousy took over his thoughts.
After intermission, the setting transformed from the iciness of the Sicilian palace in winter, to the lush pastoral backdrop, and vivid colors of spring, in the Bohemian countryside. Oversized butterflies and wooden sheep cutouts were carried onstage, as the lighting brightened.
The most spectacular scene of the play, however, is left intact and is Taichman’s directorial pièce de résistance: Act 5’s finale – the “statue of Hermione” scene. The curtain rises and Hermione, played by Hannah Yelland, is illuminated by a spotlight, as she stands completely still atop her pedestal.
When Paulina instructs Leontes: “It is required you do awake your faith,” and directs the small ensemble to play their music, Yelland slowly comes to life, as pendant lights dangling from above begin to sway. If for no other reason, I would recommend others to see this amusing production of Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale, as it wraps up its last week at McCarter Theatre, just to witness the beauty of this dazzling finale.