Bad things happen when the powerful allow swift passion to rule over considered advice — innocents die and friends turn to foes across kingdoms.
Amid real-world presidential problematics in Korea and beyond, Seoul Shakespeare Company’s portrayal of the disastrous effects of a king’s rash action in spite of the facts seems cuttingly apt in this year’s production of “The Winter’s Tale.”
Jealous Leontes, king of Sicily, groundlessly links his childhood friend and king of Bohemia, Polixenes, to his wife Hermione’s pregnancy.
Whipped into a rage that drives his son Mamillius to death and the falsely accused Hermione into a mortal swoon, he banishes his newborn daughter — but not before Polixenes, played by Jeff Wagner, is warned by the king’s servant Camillo and flees for Bohemia.
Jamie Horan’s rendering of Leontes’ progression, from restrained rage, through wild anger to hopeless grief following proof of his wife’s innocence, is a well-paced journey of a statesman losing control.
Hermione’s statuesque constancy is well embodied by Hana Kelly, while Lauren Ash Morgan encapsulates a highly effective political manipulator as her friend Paulina. Kim Hyman’s light and energetic performances as Mamillius and Perdita offer solving sweetness against the weighty follies of the older generation.
Amid it all, the oft-unheeded voices of servants underpin this play with Josh Kroot’s Camillo and John Michaels’ impressively stoic Antigonus, who follows enraged Leontes’ orders to abandon his newborn daughter on the Bohemian coast.
Lighting by Iain Culp is used to maximum effect on a sparse stage — contrasting between scenes for court and clowns and nicely dealing a flash and crash to herald the famous bear that kills Antigonus as he completes his mission.
The old shepherd, played by Jason Cutler and his clownish son, played by A.J. Toure, are boisterous light relief especially when paired with a delightfully underhanded Autolycus by Charles Jeong — who brings his usual fizz to the comic role. The pastoral scene is a well-choreographed, fun romp disrupted again by royal parents when Polixenes disrupts the wedding of his son, Prince Florizel, played by David Choi, set on marrying Perdita, unaware of her royal identity.
The well-staged contrast of the stiffness of a Sicilian court with the flamboyance of physical theater in Bohemia helps ride out some of the cankers of this unseasonal tale, often considered one of Shakespeare’s problem plays.
The rather top-heavy tragedy folded stiffly into the first three acts of “The Winter’s Tale” can be hard to balance with the romance that follows. But the production that ran from April 15-30 resonated with the young audience at Seoul’s Theater Egg & Nucleus, their guffaws and coos acting as an emotional barometer to the feuds and fortunes unraveling in this frosty Elizabethan romance.
Call it a problem play, comedy or romance, the SSC brought this one home with a cohesive cast for the large part thanks to Downey as director and Ash Morgan as actress, artistic director and producer, costume designer, song composer and even traditional Korean dancer performing as Time itself.
By Kirsty Taylor (firstname.lastname@example.org