School of Theatre and Dance presents the Bard with song, dance, hippies

By Jessica Cabe

Shakespeare has been done before but never quite like this.

The Winter’s Tale opened Thursday in O’Connell Theatre in the Stevens Building. Performances are 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday.

The tragicomedy follows King Leontes of Sicilia (Dan O’Reilly) who grows suspicious of an affair between his wife Hermione (Kate Booth) and his friend King Polixenes of Bohemia (Mark Gardner). The drama escalates as Leontes plots his revenge over the infidelity of which he is so certain. However, his evidence is insufficient for his nobles, who have the utmost respect for Hermione.

Although the dialogue is almost exactly as Shakespeare wrote it, there are new elements to this performance which set it apart from other Shakespeare productions.

First, there is the addition of musical numbers. But even more interesting is the updated time period. The first act of the show is set in the 1950s, and Act II is set in the 1970s, complete with friendly hippie mountain people who are sure to deliver laughs.

Director Stanton Davis does not think the changes made to the play will turn any Shakespeare fans off.

“Shakespeare didn’t make period costumes because it wasn’t important to people, and they probably couldn’t have afforded it,” he said. “They were done in clothes of their own time… Any show you do is going to be a change. There’s no way we can do what Shakespeare did because, if we did, we’d be in T-shirts and jeans.”

He also said the updated time period is a way to better communicate the story to an audience who is most likely more familiar with the 1970s hippie subculture than with Elizabethan times.

“I’m not doing something hip, cool and gimmicky, but we want the audience to understand what the characters mean,” he said.

The Winter’s Tale is a complex production in many ways. Of course, any Shakespeare script presents a challenge to actors because of the language. But the play goes far beyond acting, and the setting is so important that it is almost another character.

The lighting is particularly stunning, and the use of color to convey a mood takes the production to another level. During the more somber, reflective scenes, soft greens and blues wash the stage creating a melancholy atmosphere that speaks to the audience as clearly as the actors. During the scenes involving King Leontes’s suspicion and rage, red lights ignite the set to reiterate the intensity of the moment.

“Some of it I think is the best work I’ve done here,” Davis said. “But I sometimes feel like I’ve bitten off more than I can chew.”

Fortunately for the audience, Davis is his own toughest critic. The show is beautifully presented and flawlessly performed by a talented group of actors and competent crew members.

Those who are hesitant to watch a Shakespeare play with a twist may be surprised by how much the differences actually add to the show rather than take away.