Scott Peterson, Babcock Theatre
Nicole Razon and Brandon Econ in Shakespeare's "Winter's Tale."
THE WINTER'S TALE, Babcock Theatre, University of Utah, through Nov. 18 (581-7100), running time: 2 hours, 45 minutes (one intermission)

Director Michael Barakiva takes a wacky approach to "The Winter's Tale" at the Babcock Theatre this month.

The play's tragic and comic elements were somewhat jarring as they were written, lo those many years ago, by Shakespeare. Rather than trying to present this play as a seamless story, Barakiva accentuates the discordant notes.

Remember the plot of "The Winter's Tale"? Early on it's a tragedy. A father's jealousy destroys his family. His child dies. Then, minutes later, the audience laughs at some bumbling rustics and the play ends happily.

So OK, the plot takes a sharp turn in the middle. And in this production, the lighting, set and costumes also veer off in new directions.

At Babcock, before the play begins, the audience knows it's winter. The stage is draped in white and snow falls. Throughout Act 1 the sheer white curtains are pulled about, even as the king's mind clouds with doubt.

But after intermission, the stage is crazy with color. Wait, you ask yourself, is it still winter? And wait, what's with the costumes? Why did some actors switch their Elizabethan duds for modern pantsuits? Why is one guy, but only one, a hillbilly?

The lighting is also jarring at times. It's sometimes so full of contrast that the actors' faces can't be seen.

At intermission the audience got some clues. Poster boards lined the lobby. One contained a large print essay on winter, as well as a Robert Frost poem. Another bore an essay about fairy tales.

You weren't expected to read all the essays. (There wasn't time.) You were only expected to start thinking "Winter Fairy Tale."

Thus prepared when you took your seat, you had visions of Little Red Riding Hood's granny even as a wolf ate the king's faithful servant.

The performance did not go perfectly on opening night. A piece of the set dropped down too soon, causing tangling and fumbling. And, of course, this is a student production so some of the actors are of student quality. (Although there are also a number who are excellent actors, as is usually the case at Babcock.)

Still, Barakiva's approach is fascinating.

Sensitivity rating: Some bawdiness and sexual innuendo.