Theater review: Deftly balanced 'Winter’s Tale' is well told

Published: Monday, Sept. 17 2012 4:00 p.m. MDT

"THE WINTER'S TALE," the Sting & Honey Company, Leona Wagner Black Box Theatre at the Rose Wagner Performing Arts Center, through Sept. 29, $15-$20, 888-451-2787 or arttix.org

Staging a Shakespeare play is always a dicey proposition, but a production of each of his tragicomedies is like a tightrope walk. In the Sting & Honey’s “The Winter’s Tale,” the company has Javen Tanner as its safety net.

For its third full-scale show since its inception two years ago — following Samuel Beckett’s existential “Waiting for Godot” and a poetic retelling of the nativity story in “The Bird of Dawning Singeth All Night Long” — Sting & Honey has selected one of the Bard’s rarely produced plays to emphasize its conjoined mission statement of tragedy and comedy in the Beehive State. The company’s “The Winter’s Tale” is an inviting, beautifully told production of the sweeping epic.

Rarely produced, “The Winter’s Tale” has earned the long-standing reputation as one of the Bard’s “problem plays,” while others have called it downright schizophrenic (it’s not just one, but two — two plays in one!). Dual stories are congealed into one in which tragedy meets comedy, with heaping helpings of fairy tale and farce. And when actors take on two contrasting roles, the measures of comedy and tragedy of the play are more acutely evident.

As the play begins, Leontes, the king of Sicilia, is in love with his picture-perfect wife, Hermione, has a BFF in King Polixenes of Bohemia and is awaiting the birth of his daughter. But in short order, the queen is imprisoned on charges of adultery for no readily apparent reason, and then dies of a broken heart.

When his daughter Perdita is born, despite the desperate pleadings of the queen’s loyal friend Paulina, the child is to be abandoned by Paulina’s husband, Lord Antigonus. However, the child is raised in a pastoral setting and falls in love with the son of Polixenes, Prince Florizel. At the conclusion, love is restored, Hermione comes magically to life and all is set right.

Tanner, Sting & Honey’s artistic director and a founding member of the company, provides the skillful direction of this most handsome production with many compelling performances. He also takes on the two lead roles of Leontes and the kindly but slightly unhinged Shepherd who raises Perdita and impressively performs both roles. As Leontes, he is overbearing without going over the top to approach madness. Later as Shepherd, he is capably aided in the comic merriment by an expert Daniel Anderson as Clown, with whom he has jovial rapport.

Deena Marie Manzanares portrays a chilling and highly sympathetic Hermione, who is first a confident queen “not prone to weeping” and then a pitifully broken woman publicly defending her honor in court.

Kathryn Atwood is appropriately mystical as Time to explain the passage of 16 years as Act 2 begins, but is a forceful presence and in a word outstanding as Pauline in the first act. Her skills are matched by Roger Dunbar as Antigonus. Dunbar is also memorably hilarious as Autolycus, the spirited pickpocket and peddler, getting the lion’s share of hearty belly laughs. Spritely Heidi Klein is charming as Perdita.

Tanner also makes good use of his students at Salt Lake’s Waterford School in smaller roles, and the youngsters are well-spoken and act with some authority.

Contributing factors to the success of this production are the splendid Elizabethan costumes by Tara Tanner, who has selected a vivid color theme for each scene, the satyr masks by Robert Lamarche and Suzanne Conine’s intricately sculpted scenic tree, in which Hermione is reborn.

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