Monday, February 23, 2009

The Winter's Tale


By William Shakespeare; Directed by Sam Mendes; At the Brooklyn Academy of Music (CLOSED)

As might be expected with a script as strange as Shakespeare's late-period romance The Winter's Tale, critics are divided over how Sam Mendes reconciles the play's largely tragic first three acts with its pastoral comedy fourth and its redemptive fifth. Several reviewers think Mendes overdoes it a bit with his quasi-Wild West take on the country bumpkins of Act IV (lead by a widely praised Ethan Hawke), but Backstage's Adam Perlman feels the exact opposite.

NYTheatre A+
(Mitchell Conway) Simon Russell Beale gives an incomparable performance as Leontes in The Bridge Project's production of The Winter's Tale, directed by Sam Mendes. In fact, every performance is marvelous. The design components are stunning. This show is remarkable!

Just Shows To Go You A
(Patrick Lee) Sam Mendes’ production of Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale is a wondrous, gorgeous gem... Simon Russell Beale, Sinead Cusack, Rebecca Hall, Ethan Hawke and Richard Easton are all outstanding; it’s too rare a pleasure to see an ensemble so thoroughly comfortable with Shakespeare’s language and rhythms. In previous productions I’ve seen, the play’s finale has never worked; here, I was moved to tears.

(Matt Windman) It’s now official. Year one of the three-year transatlantic Bridge Project – uniting an equally mixed group of English and American actors to perform classical plays in repertory under the direction of Sam Mendes – is a shining success... he biggest delight of the cast is Ethan Hawke in the comedy relief role of Autolycus, Bohemia’s thieving troubadour. With a guitar in hand and a beggar’s cup in the other, Hawke is dressed as a poor, disheveled drifter and later as an Alice Cooper rip-off.

NYPost A
(Frank Scheck) That [Mendes] staging of this "problem play" is so coherent and entertaining is a testament to the promise of this burgeoning company. Along with their superb production of "The Cherry Orchard," it immediately establishes The Bridge Project as a force to be reckoned with.

NY Daily News A
(Joe Dziemianowicz) An uneasy mix of dark tragedy, boisterous comedy and magical fantasy, The Winter's Tale is deemed one of Shakespeare's "problem" plays. But Sam Mendes' elegant production at the Brooklyn Academy of Music so skillfully reconciles jarring moods and jumps in time, you're apt to wonder, what's the problem?

American Theater Web A
(Andy Propst) An exceptional evening of Shakespearean theater...t by the time the action shifts back to Bohemia, theatergoers have been both moved and amused, and thus, the fairy tale ending that waits in store for Leontes and the rest has an almost inescapable emotional impact. These are characters for whom theatergoers have come to care, almost unquestioningly, and a happy end seems to be the only just thing for them all. It's rare that this romance, one of the trickiest in the canon, can inspire both extremes of emotions in audiences while telling the story in what feels to be a lucid, unified manner, and theatergoers should certainly consider a trip to BAM before this limited engagement ends.

Newsday A
(Linda Winer) Like the Chekhov, this one has been directed by Mendes, the multi-tasking English director of such wildly different adventures as Cabaret and Revolutionary Road. Where his flourishes felt superimposed on the poetic naturalism of Cherry Orchard, however, the fantastical touches help connect the uneasy halves of revenge tragedy and bumpkin comedy in Shakespeare's unwieldy, often unpleasant, ultimately ravishing, mystical romance... When Shakespeare abruptly switches to the countryside, the noble acting turns to inspired comedy, complete with concert and bawdy dance. Richard Easton is delicious as the dim old Shepherd and Ethan Hawke is almost shockingly hilarious as a rogue channeling Bob Dylan's troubadour period.

TheaterMania A-
(David Finkle)
With his late dramas like The Winter's Tale, now at BAM as part of The Bridge Project, Shakespeare entered his own maturity, promoting forgiveness. Fortunately, no real forgiveness is necessary where Sam Mendes' lucid, tough-minded, and ultimately charming production of this problematic play -- which is ordinarily considered a play about death and rebirth but is just as much about the related importance of penitence and its humane reward -- is concerned.

The New Yorker B+
(Unsigned) Shakespeare’s late drama is full of stylistic curveballs, swerving from court tragedy to bawdy pastoral and back. But Mendes binds the play together on the strength of stagecraft and of his compelling cast, which includes Simon Russell Beale, SinĂ©ad Cusack, Ethan Hawke (channelling Tom Waits as the pickpocket Autolycus), and the sonorous stage beauty Rebecca Hall.

Associated Press B+
(Unsigned) The Winter's Tale is a strangely schizophrenic play, but director Sam Mendes has found the heart in this odd Shakespearean romance and made its disparate pieces work. He has directed the production, now on view at the Brooklyn Academy of Music's Harvey Theatre, with elegance, skillfully weaving its strands of tragedy and comedy into a blissfully satisfying theatrical whole.

NYTimes B
(Ben Brantley) The first 90 minutes of this “Winter’s Tale” — in repertory at the Harvey Theater of the Brooklyn Academy of Music with Mr. Mendes’s imbalanced but enjoyable version of Chekhov’s “Cherry Orchard,” which opened last month — have a pure emotional strength that leave you open mouthed and teary eyed... [but] The play’s second half is largely set 16 years later in Bohemia, which has been envisioned as a sunny frontier land, in the style of the movie musical “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers.”I assume that the contrast between these worlds is meant to make witty contrasting use of the Bridge Project’s bi-national cast of British and American performers. But the hee-haw hoedown sensibility registers as a knee-jerk artistic choice, and Mr. Mendes doesn’t seem to feel at home here. I’ve seen Wild, Wild West interpretations of Shakespeare comedies too many times, and they’re usually strained in their rustic jollity and bawdiness...Nonetheless, that final act in Sicilia is absolutely gorgeous.

Bloomberg B
(John Simon) This being a romance, all ends well, improbabilities and even impossibilities be damned. But it is hard to accept two things even in a fairy-tale: the famous stage direction, “Exit Antigonus pursued by a bear” and the final scene, with the statue of dead Hermione coming to life to welcome her lost and found daughter. Among the other high points of Sam Mendes’s revival are a most creditable bear and, no less admirable, Hall, posing as Hermione’s statue with perfect immobility. Other elements of the production, however, are less impressive. Beale is a well-spoken actor strikingly lacking charm and physical appeal. His Leontes forfeits the modicum of sympathy the outrageous king must command. As King Polixenes, the dutiful Josh Hamilton displays scant regal presence.

Variety B
The Winter’s Tale lurches from tragedy to comedy to romance, its schizophrenia cemented from scene one, when the infant prince of Sicilia ponders his choice of bedtime story: “Merry or sad shall it be? As merry as you will. A sad tale’s best for winter.” The play traditionally resists categorization, but the heart of Sam Mendes’ production is rooted firmly in pathos and sobriety, making Shakespeare’s act-four departure into boisterous pastoral revelry a rude interruption to the dramatic flow. While it doesn’t smooth out the unevenness, this elegant staging is so poignant in its sorrowful moods that the evening is both suspenseful and satisfying.

Village Voice B-
(Michael Feingold) The main reason to see The Winter's Tale (BAM Harvey) is Ethan Hawke's Autolycus, a character perfectly if un-Shakespeareanly "placed," by Hawke and composer Mark Bennett: a guitar-strumming flimflam artist out of a revisionist '60s Western by way of a North Beach coffeehouse... Otherwise, Mendes catches the play's shape tidily, but the passion it demands is mostly lacking.

Backstage C+
(Adam R. Perlman) A sad tale may be best for winter, but is it best for The Winter's Tale? Sam Mendes certainly seems to think so, for in his star-studded new production -- playing in rep with The Cherry Orchard at BAM -- he has conceived of the late-Shakespeare romance as a muted tragedy. This is not an insupportable approach, but this being the Bridge Project, he might have done more to link the tragic and comic elements. As it stands, you might have a richer evening of theatre if you arrive after intermission.

Wall St. Journal C-
(Terry Teachout) Mr. Mendes and his British-American cast have reconfigured Shakespeare's complex, coincidence-laden play as a semi-modern domestic melodrama whose 19th-century setting sheds no clarifying light on the text, just as the actors, fine though they are, mostly fail to find the music in the verse. As Leontes, the king whose mad jealousy smashes up his happy family, Simon Russell Beale, an actor whom I admire, seesaws inexplicably and monotonously between two notes, one high and the other a little less so.

NYTR A+ 14; NYP A 13; JSTGU A 13; ND A 13; NYDN A 13; ATW A 13; TM A- 12; AP B+ 11; TNY B+ 11; NYT B 10; BB B 10; VAR B 10; VV B- 9; BS C+ 8; WSJ C- 6. TOTAL = 166 /15 = 11.06


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Parsifal said...

Thanks! I will be watching the Winter's Tale at the Ancient Epidaurus theatre in about a week -the Mendes production with the same cast- so I was looking for reviews and I was pretty amazed to find them all at just one place :)