Unmoveable, pig-headed despots have terrorized their kin and subjects since Cain murdered Abel. Over the millennia, the degree and scope of unbridled power unleashing unwarranted death and devastation has filled—and will continue to be recorded: you can’t legislate human nature—histories of civilization. Those who have suffered directly or lived to recount the horrors unleashed—not surprisingly—seek revenge, cheering the calamities that befall their tormentors; knowing, hoping and praying that justice will finally be done.
What would the tyrants give—only after being caught in the act or discovering that their blood-letting assumptions were—in fact—unsubstantiated, impulsive conclusions: dead wrong sans doute—to re-write their own deeds?
Leave it to William Shakespeare, who made a career out of unmasking selfishly convenient “truth,” to craft just such a tale of royal blindness that sends an innocent boy, his falsely accused mother/bride and their steadfast believers to early graves only to magically reincarnate the love of his miserable life (but not their issue) in prophetic fashion.
Director Marti Maraden’s instincts, insights and inventiveness have established this magnificent production as the new benchmark against which all future presentations will be measured.
The three-hour (encompassing a 16-year span) runtime seems to vanish in mere minutes as all of the components come together, creating a perfect storm of art.
Looking ahead to Peter Pan and The Tempest, the second half opens with a whole new meaning to the expression “time flies.” In this instance it’s Randy Hughson (who also appears as Antigonus), floating above the stage, filling in the factual details of the multi-year gap between murder-most-foul and penance leading to a fantastical redemption that other long-dead butchers (the overwhelming majority “prematurely” expelled from the planet) could only marvel upon.
Beautifully colouring both sides of the temporal divide is Marc Desormeaux’s Eastern-hued score (replete with authentic instruments from Persian sitar through deftly inserted samples including stantoor, Persian ney and Aeolian harp), which—along with designer John Pennoyer’s fabric-rich costuming—leave little doubt that Shakespeare’s Bohemia is, indeed, Bithinyia (Asia Minor whose coast was the Black Sea). Most certainly, the geography and culture of the more usual present-day Czech Republic were nowhere to be seen or heard.
With such a fine visual and aural backdrop upon which to play, the cast responded in kind, delivering a near-perfect result.
None better than Ben Carlson to play Leontes, King of Sicilia. With every succeeding role, Carlson demonstrates conclusively that to become a dramatic actor of the first rank, a strong background in comedy and farce is a vital prerequisite, using similar tools to draw shudders and empathy rather than howls of laughter. On paper, the deluded monarch can seem to be a fool; yet properly declaimed (“I have too much believed my own suspicion”) the audience begins to understand the psychological makeup that drives heartless leaders to evil acts.
Equally convincing and firing on all emotional cylinders is Yanna McIntosh’s portrayal of Hermione, Leontes’ Queen who circumstance (the nearly-at-term first lady’s suspected adulterer has been a guest of the court for nine months …) and petty jealousy have conspired to create a guilty verdict without an iota of evidence. McIntosh’s gritty trial speech is an early highlight; having her prison garb resonate with black slavery is a subtle detail that silently speaks volumes.
Prior to the interval, Dan Chameroy (Polixenes, King of Bohemia) brings just the right tone of outrage as the best-friend-turned-falsely-charged-fornicator then an equally unforgiving father when it appears that his son is about to marry far beneath their station.
Perdita (aptly named “lost”), survives her newborn abandonment and is raised as a shepherd’s (Brian Tee in stellar form) daughter only to fall head-over-heels for Florizel, Polixenes’ class-blind son. Cara Ricketts is a couple roles away from making her character sing, while Ian Lake’s delivery of haughtiness and steadfastness as required never misses a cue.
Autolycus, everyone’s favourite purse-snatcher and career thief, is so well done by Tom Rooney that he very nearly steals the show too. Dala Badr and Victor Dolhai (along with the design wizards) give awful life to a bear that would be just as at home in Wagner’s Ring Cycle (cross-reference below).
Binding the generations together are Sean Arbuckle as Leontes’ then Polixenes’ most-trusted advisor (but “We only follow the advice we like …”) and Seana McKenna, portraying Paulina, a court veteran who has the audacity to speak freely to her betters. Arbuckle finds just the right tone—whomever his master be; McKenna dazzles as the mouthy matriarch who, not surprisingly, much more than dabbles in the black arts.
Required viewing for oppressors (who will only see their enemies in the plot) and marvellously rewarding for the rest, it’s a production that shouldn’t be missed. JWR