A WINTER’S TALE – Written by William Shakespeare; Directed by Wendy Franz.  Produced by the Colorado Shakespeare Festival (University Theatre, CU campus, Boulder) through August 12th.  Tickets available at 303-492-8008 or CUpresent@colorado.edu.

Remembrance of the only other time I’ve ever seen this piece performed placed it firmly in the “grim” category of scripts in my mind.  True enough that it starts out with dastardly deeds and promises of more.  However, in the hands of the indoor cohort of 18 actors, the latter part of this tale told around a winter’s fireplace becomes a rollicking light-hearted jaunt.  The shadow of Othello looms over the first act as Leontes (Josh Innerst) succumbs to unreasonable and unsubstantiated jealousy of the relationship between his wife Hermione (Emily Van Fleet) and his house guest, the invited King of Bohemia Polixenes (Stephen Tyrone Williams).  It causes him to doubt her love, his loyalty and the origin of the baby she carries.  You can see where this is going.  She’s locked in her chambers; he’s forced to flee back to his own kingdom; the baby girl is to be abandoned in the desert by a servant of the Court.  Pretty grim stuff.

During intermission, sixteen years have passed, and things are looking better.  Instead of being killed, the baby Perdita was found and raised by a shepardess and is now secretly engaged to marry Prince Florizel who just happens to be the son of the King who was chased out of court earlier.  Oh, the twists and turns of Shakespeare romances.  After much singing and dancing by the Rustics, Autolycus is introduced and, in the Greek tradition, is gifted in trickery and thievery.  The Kings are finally reunited, all is forgiven, and Shakespeare has one last big reveal in his pocket just to please everyone and provide a happy ending.

This company contains some of the best local actors and many imported from other locations.  Emily Van Fleet who often graces the stage at the Denver and Arvada Centers plays Hermione, the wronged wife.  Favorite comic Leslie O’Carroll shines in Act II as the Old Shepardess who has found the baby.  Noelia Antweiler is debuting this season after racking up credits across the county, the Arvada Center, Curious and the Aurora Fox.  She plays Paulina, a court handmaiden who dresses down Leontes and defends her Queen. Jacob Dresch develops both Autolycus’ trickery and his humanity with no seeming conflict of emotions.  Even though Shakespeare didn’t give him a lot to work with, Josh Innerst created an irate King whose jealousy drives him to unthinkable acts of violence and whose sorrow and repentance nearly destroys his life.

There are astonishingly funny moments in this production which outweighs the misogynistic thread that runs through it.  The Royals are capable of great drama and high blown emotion while the Rustics have a devil-may-care attitude about life, as long as they can sing, dance, eat, drink and celebrate the small blessings they have.   Celebrate with gusto!

A bright and colorful set moves us into Act II.  Clare Henkel’s costumes move from the somber court colors and dignified lines to the ruffles and bright prints of the festive peasants.  Matthew Crane’s set gave us simple lines, dramatic quick changes and a colorful gathering place for the country folk.  With the somber lighting of the castle juxtaposed against the bright outdoor sunshine of the rustic encampment, Stephen C. Jones’ lighting design enhanced the production.  Tim Orr as Music Director and Erika Randall as Dance Choreographer completed the directing team led by Wendy Franz, the Director.  All together they provide an enjoyable rendition of this rarely-done script.

A WOW factor of 8.5!!

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