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Marshall University's Student Newspaper

The Parthenon

Marshall University's Student Newspaper

The Parthenon

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REVIEW: ‘The Winter’s Tale’ Had Its Moments

The poster for the upcoming play
Courtesy of Marshall Theatre
The poster for the upcoming play

I’d hoped for more out of Marshall’s rendition of William Shakespeare’s “The Winter’s Tale” over Nov. 14-18. After studying the play for my Shakespeare course in Oxford, England, I’d been excited to see how director Terry Layman and his cast would bring to life the themes of betrayal, family and forgiveness. However, those ideas—as well as the overall performances and production—simply fell flat for me. While I enjoyed watching “The Winter’s Tale,” it did not astound me in the way I have come to expect from a Marshall performance.

Plot: 3/5

Despite not being as popular as plays like “Romeo and Juliet” or “Hamlet,” “The Winter’s Tale” still has some memorable scenes and qualities. The first half of the play has the air of a courtroom drama as it follows King Leontes of Sicilia and his descent into jealous madness. He accuses his wife, Queen Hermione, of cheating on him with King Polixenes of Bohemia and exiles her newborn daughter to Bohemia to die. However, a prophecy from the oracle of Apollo reveals Hermione’s innocence and that Leontes will have no heirs until his missing daughter is found. 

The second half of the play then changes to a classic Elizabethan romance as it follows Perdita and Prince Florizel of Bohemia. It ends the show by righting the wrongs of the first half. Perdita is revealed to be Leontes’ missing daughter and ultimately marries Florizel despite some initial protests from Polixenes. Additionally, through some dubious acts of magic involving bringing to life an extremely life-like statue of Hermione, Leontes reunites and makes amends with his queen, who presumably died from grief after hearing the prophecy in the first half of the show.  

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 On the merits of the script alone, Hermione’s speech during her trial in Act 3 Scene 2 breaks my heart every time I read it. Additionally, I found myself laughing out loud at some of the dialogue in Act 4 Scene 4. In it, Polixenes insults the Shepherd who has raised Perdita in her exile by saying, “I am sorry that by hanging thee I can but // Shorten thy life one week,” which surprised me by its witty brutality. Then there is, of course, the iconic stage direction “Exit, pursued by a bear” from Act 3 Scene 3, which is referenced by the bear in the poster for Marshall’s show.

Despite these standout lines and moments, I have often struggled at how quickly and inexplicably Leontes comes to distrust Hermione, who very clearly loves him based on the speech during her trial I mentioned before. Given that this is essentially the crux of the play’s drama, I usually have to force myself to overlook it and just accept that it happens. I also find that Hermione coming back to life at the end, despite fitting with the convention of Elizabethan romances, raises a lot of questions about how she stayed hidden for so long and why no one told the very obviously grief-stricken king his wife was still alive. These critiques don’t make the play unwatchable—just overall frustrating in a way that feels unnecessary rather than plot relevant. 

Performance 3/5

Two actors clearly stood out from the rest of the cast: Nikki Riniti as Paulina and George Kinley as Autolycus. Paulina features most in the first half as confidant to Hermione and switches between a comedic and dramatic character depending on the scene. Paulina is written as witty and sarcastic, qualities Riniti masterfully brought out in her performance. However, Riniti also added an almost biblical force behind the rage Paulina expresses in her more dramatic scenes, creating a three-dimensionality to the character that made her extremely memorable. 

Kinley, meanwhile, took the already very comedic Autolycus from the second half and made him absolutely hilarious. Almost everything Kinley did, from how he moved across the stage to how he delivered (sometimes even sang) his lines, made me want to laugh. His performance stole the second half of the show in the same way Riniti’s did for the first. 

I also enjoyed T. Michael Murdock’s Leontes and Jeremy Wright’s Polixenes. Wright made the king of Bohemia feel like the best friend in a buddy-cop, which fit well with his to Leontes. As for Leontes, I personally interpret the king of Sicilia as more of a mad king archetype, which differed from the more grounded interpretation Murdock brought to the stage. I did not disagree with Murdock’s performance, though, and actually found that it made his grief over Hermione’s death more impactful. 

However, I still found Leontes’ madness underdeveloped. In the first few scenes, Murdock drank several glasses of wine and grew more and more upset with every drink. After that, though, Murdock never drinks another drop of alcohol. This was a missed opportunity, as it could have provided an explanation for Leontes’ sudden jealousy and distrust of his friend and wife. 

I was also disappointed by Eliza Aulick’s Hermione. She did not portray the character poorly, but I did not find the complexity of emotion I had hoped for in her performance. I read Hermione as deeply hurt by Leontes accusing her of adultery and not just because it insults her honor. She clearly loves him, but these false accusations have separated her from her children while also stripping her of her status. Aulick did not really emphasize these elements of her character, and instead portrayed the queen of Sicilia as mostly insulted because she is the daughter of the Russian emperor. This deprived the character of a kind of depth that would have made Hermione more engaging to watch.

In fact, many of the actors—even those mentioned previously—came across as less engaging than they could have been at times. While the actors delivered their lines well, they usually did so while standing or sitting in the same place. Meanwhile, the other actors would also stay still and typically just watch the actor speaking. In those moments, the lack of movement made everyone feel like stationary, talking heads. 

Production: 3/5 

Everything about this production was very pretty. The actors’ costumes, designed by Olivia Trees, were eye-catching. I especially loved the continuity of Hermione’s purple shawl as it developed from a part of the queen’s attire to a blanket for the newborn Perdita to ultimately a part of Perdita’s own costume around her waist. The extravagance of the costumes also made Hermione’s very plain appearance during the trial in Act 3—with a simple white dress and no shoes—stand out while also emphasizing the character’s emotional distress. 

Meanwhile, the lighting, designed by Lang Reynolds, contributed significantly to the continuity of the performances. Spotlighting actors during their asides helped make it clear that the other characters onstage could not hear what was being said. Additionally, the different color palettes for the lights differentiated the various settings of the play while also adding to the mood of the scenes, such as with the more somber, blue-toned lights in the jail. 

I also enjoyed the production’s use of projections. My favorite was the ticking clock that opened the second half of the show, which really helped convey that several years had passed. I also thought other projections, like the bear projection for the iconic “Exit, pursued by a bear” moment and having the prophecy from the oracle appear as it was being read, were quite clever. 

However, the experimental theater felt like a limiting factor towards the set design. All the performances physically took place in front of the same Sicilian villa despite the plot transitioning to a variety of sets. While there’s no inherent problem with having an audience imagine aspects of a setting, other props could have been added to better distinguish between the different places, especially to indicate when the characters were outside. 

Although, the experimental theater did allow for some entertaining audience interactions. It felt like the entire theater laughed when Noah Ritchie as the Shepherd’s Son told one of the audience members to stop making noise despite it actually being Kinley’s hilarious acting behind him. This heightened what easily could have been a more forgettable moment in the show.  

Still, the experimental theater simply didn’t seem to suit the show, despite adding some interesting elements. It didn’t significantly highlight the show’s theme or performances and, again, came across as a hindrance at times. While I enjoyed many aspects of the production, those elements did not elevate “The Winter’s Tale” in an extraordinary way. 

 

Overall: 9/15 A few standout performance and production elements could not overshadow the less outstanding aspects of this rendition of “The Winter’s Tale.” 

 

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Rafael Alfonso, Content Editor
Rafael Alfonso serves as The Parthenon's resident active voice aficionado and website mastermind. In more official words, he's the paper's content editor. In his free time, he practices various martial arts and keeps up with his loved ones back in his hometown of Virginia Beach, Virginia. Once he graduates (assumedly) in 2025, he hopes to combine his computer science and creative writing majors into things that make people happier.
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