Michael Hayden (Leontes), Michelle O'Neill (Hermione), Emily Gunyou Halaas, Christina Baldwin, Suzanne Warmanen and Ansa Akyea in the Guthrie Theater production of William Shakespeare's The WINTER'S TALE, directed by Jonathan Munby.
Photo by T. Charles Erickson
A while back I posted reviews for Shakespeare's "The Winter's Tale," which runs at the Guthrie Theater through March 27. The show has been commended for its execution of what is commonly known as one of the Bard's "problem plays."
While the critics gave the production high marks, I didn't see much - if any - critical treatment of "the problem." That is, in "The Winter's Tale" we are presented with neither an outright comedy nor a complete tragedy. Instead, we are left unsettled and unsure by what appears to be an overly simplistic ending to a highly complex situation.
The original premise of the play - the terrible acts committed by a jealous husband - are not unfamiliar to Shakespeare fans. In "Othello," the Moor suffocates his own wife Desdamona, convinced that she has betrayed him. But Othello's jealousy was fueled and fanned by the evil Iago, and cannot be blamed on Othello alone.
In "The Winter's Tale," Leontes is his own worst enemy, and when we meet him he has already convinced himself that his wife Hermione is having an affair with his childhood friend:
Is whispering nothing?
Is leaning cheek to cheek? is meeting noses?
Kissing with inside lip? stopping the career
Of laughing with a sigh?--a note infallible
Of breaking honesty--horsing foot on foot?
Skulking in corners? wishing clocks more swift?
Hours, minutes? noon, midnight? and all eyes
Blind with the pin and web but theirs, theirs only,
That would unseen be wicked? is this nothing?
Why, then the world and all that's in't is nothing;
The covering sky is nothing; Bohemia nothing;
My wife is nothing; nor nothing have these nothings,
If this be nothing.
Leontes, despite all the protestations of his counsels, condemns his pregnant wife to prison where she - we believe - dies, and has her newborn baby girl sent to a far-off land to be abandoned to fate. An entire ship's crew is killed at sea after carrying out Leontes orders, and his own young son dies for wont of his mother's care.
Devon Solwold (Mamillius), Michael Hayden (Leontes), Bill McCallum (Polixenes) and Michelle O'Neill (Hermione) in the Guthrie Theater production of William Shakespeare's The WINTER'S TALE, directed by Jonathan Munby.
Photo by T. Charles Erickson
Sounds like a tragedy, doesn't it? But fast-forward 16 years to the end. The baby girl Perdita survives and thrives, falling in love with the son of Leontes same childhood friend, Polixenes. They, by a twist of fate, end up returning to her home Sicilia, and she is reunited with her father. Leontes has been penitent all this time for his crimes of passion, and is delighted to have found his long-lost daughter.
Here's where it gets unsettling for me. Paulina, a counsel to Leontes (who lost her own husband due to Leontes' rage), reveals that she has commissioned a statue of his dead wife Hermione, and would the family care to see it now that it's complete?
If you can behold it,
I'll make the statue move indeed, descend
And take you by the hand; but then you'll think--
Which I protest against--I am assisted
By wicked powers.
...It is required
You do awake your faith. Then all stand still;
On: those that think it is unlawful business
I am about, let them depart.
Music, awake her; strike!
Like magic, Hermione steps down from her pedastal as beautiful as the day Leontes first accused her of disloyalty. She embraces her husband and greets her daughter thus:
...thou shalt hear that I,
Knowing by Paulina that the oracle
Gave hope thou wast in being, have preserved
Myself to see the issue.
Soon after the family exits the stage, with all having been put right. Or has it?
Let's take a look at what's happened. Leontes has suffered for his sins 16 years, and so he is rewarded for his time with a fresh start with his beloved wife. But does anyone ever really get a fresh start? Can Hermione truly forgive her husband for his actions which led to her son's death and the separation of her and her daughter?
In fact, if she really chose to be "preserved," who's to say she didn't willfully abandon her own son to his death as well - is she not at least in part culpable? (see comments)
I found myself upset with the ending, but not just because of the characters' actions; I was also disturbed by my own reaction. Leontes did not - to my mind - deserve to be reunited with his wife; too many people's lives had been lost. But then, who am I to judge?
To my mind "The Winter's Tale" is a problem play because it leaves us to wrestle with some of our own problems, and to ask some soul-searching questions. Namely, when has a person paid enough for their crimes? When can we stop judging someone for their past mistakes, and instead consider them by their present actions? And what does it take to make us willing to forgive?
"The Winter's Tale" runs through March 27 at the Guthrie Theater.(3 Comments)
Posted at 8:34 AM on March 2, 2011
by Marianne Combs
Filed under: News and reviews
Playboy of the Irish world
This brilliant novel is based on the life of playwright John Millington Synge, told through the eyes of his lover.
- KATHERINE BAILEY, Star Tribune
Milkweed Editions book makes Believer Book award short-list
"Orion, You Came and You Took All Our Marbles," a quirky novel by Kira Henehan, published by Milkweed Editions of Minneapolis, has been named to the Believer Book Award short-list.
- Laurie Hertzel, Star Tribune
Biting the ankles of history: Max learns about George Washington, and is bedeviled by children
- Max Sparber, MinnPost.com
Bob Dylan's lyrical muse Suze Rotolo dies at 67Rotolo, an artist and Dylan's girlfriend and lyrical muse when he came to prominence in the early 1960s, died Friday. She was 67.
- Associated Press
Desdamona Ross: 100 Creatives
Making it in any scene is a difficult task, but breaking into hip hop as a female performer is especially hard. Local word maven Desdamona has managed this task.
- Jessica Armbruster
Real-Phonic 8th Commandment Revival at First Avenue, 2/28/2011
Four hours of soul-stirring, rousing country--not the Tim McGraw variety or the Taylor Swift attitude, mind you, but the real stuff, the rural kind of country they don't play on country radio stations
- Natalie Gallagher, City Pages
David Gray at the State Theatre, 2/28/11
It's obvious Gray puts an effort into making his audience feel comfortable, sheltered, and warm.
- Cindal Lee Heart, City Pages
Theater Review / All the right notes Theater Latte Da's 'Song of Extinction' a touching triumph
In "Song of Extinction" -- a very good new play by EM Lewis -- almost all of the characters are trying to bury their pain in something else, be it music, teaching or even entomology.
- Rob Hubbard , Pioneer Press
Song of Extinction at the Dowling Studio
Examining the death of a family
- Ed Huyck, City Pages
Theater LatteDa presents Song of Extinction at the Guthrie Theater through March 20
All photos by Michal Daniel
The following are excerpts of reviews for "Song of Extinction" in various news outlets in the Twin Cities. Click on the links to read the full reviews.
The avoidance of pain is a core human instinct. But to what lengths will people go to dodge difficult truths? In "Song of Extinction" -- a very good new play by EM Lewis -- almost all of the characters are trying to bury their pain in something else, be it music, teaching or even entomology.
But these truths eventually must be confronted, and when the characters do so, it turns into powerful theater. "Song of Extinction" is receiving its area premiere from Theater Latte Da in a production filled with compassion for its characters and a delicate touch that makes it a very moving drama.
While Theater Latte Da is known for producing musicals, this play is light on music, most of it emanating from the cello of Dan Piering. He plays Max, a high school student whose mother is in her final days of a battle with cancer. Music is his escape, while his father retreats into an obsession with saving a species of insect he has discovered.
Filled with anger and despair, Max is a prime candidate for self-destruction until his Cambodian biology teacher intervenes. A survivor of the Khmer Rouge genocide, Khim Phan employs straight talk and as much love as his damaged heart can offer to try to get Max's mind back on his schoolwork.
To the credit of author Lewis and director Peter Rothstein, no point is belabored, no audience member bludgeoned with a message. For a work with so many layers, it's nevertheless almost minimalist in structure, its dialogue convincingly realistic, its tone admirably restrained.
Dan Piering as Max Forrestal and David Mura as Khim Pham in The Guthrie Theater presentation of a Theater Latté Da production of "Song of Extinction" by EM Lewis, directed by Peter Rothstein.
Song Of Extinction is a fierce meditation on death, species extinction, grief, familial dysfunction, adolescent anger, and the redemptive power of music. It's often frustrating - but, really, what truly ambitious play isn't? This piece is intense, rich, affecting.
Playwright Lewis approaches her story with cinematic theatricality: scenes are short, often just fragments, woven together with music, dreamy lights (and harsh fluorescents), flashbacks, soliloquies. All this imparts an hallucinatory intensity to the proceedings.
Lily Forrestal is dying, of cancer. Her husband Ellery, perhaps as a defense, obsesses on the fate of a Bolivian insect, about to become extinct, and thus ignores his wife's physical deterioration, as well as his 15 year old son Max's building anger. Left to his own devices, unfed and dirty, Max (with his ever-present cello) washes up in the office of Khim Phan, a high school biology teacher, a man caught up in his grief for his family, slaughtered thirty plus years earlier in the Cambodian killing fields. I will refrain from describing in detail what happens when Pham visits the Forrestals in the hospital late at night. Know that it's surprising and highly effective.
All in all, marvelous stuff. But this play is tricky: the heavy use of theatrical techniques makes us pull back, whereas the story makes us want to lean in, embrace the characters. This creates a tension which, for the most part, director Peter Rothstein (also Latté Da's Artistic Director) handles well.
Carla Noack as Lily Forrestal, David Mura as Khim Pham and John Middleton as Ellery Forrestal in The Guthrie Theater presentation of a Theater Latté Da production of Song of Extinction
Simplicity is greatly underestimated in theatrical virtuosity. The trick is to not starve your work of its emotion and its power, yet craft lean scenes that don't waste our energy.
Playwright E.M. Lewis accomplishes all this in "Song of Extinction." Director Peter Rothstein's production, which Theater Latté Da opened Saturday at the Guthrie Studio, honors the delicacy of Lewis' work, and the result is 90 minutes of poignant worthiness...
...Mura's background as a poet informs his portrayal of Phan, his phrasing and rhythms landing precisely on Lewis' words. He orates memories of the Cambodian killing fields, his assimilation in the United States and frustration that Americans can't imagine extinction for themselves. He, on the other hand, is the lone survivor of his family and understands the fragility of existence.
Noack has a flinty resignation as Lily, but also some wild-eyed morphine-fueled moments in which her bed is transformed into a vessel floating through a river of hallucination.
As Max, Piering avoids so many of the "young performer" potholes that exist when a role requires such emotional investment. Not to mention he plays his cello beautifully.
Technically and scenically -- with music undergirding the story and mood -- this production also has an economy of construction that again allows the story to tell itself.
It's really that simple.
Young teenager Max Forrestal is a mess. He shows up to school day after day in the same dirty clothes. He is rake thin, as if he hasn't eaten in days. He appears content to hide in the back of the class, duct-taped cello case at his side, listening to his iPod rather than the teacher--when he bothers to show up.
Most of his teachers are willing to just ignore the symptoms of a student in crisis, except for biology instructor Khim Phan. At the same age as Max, Khim lived through Cambodia's killing fields, and he recognizes someone on the verge of a personal extinction.
Their relationship lives at the core of E.M. Lewis's Song of Extinction, which--despite some shortcomings--gets a powerful and moving reading from Theatre Latte Da. That's fostered in part by remarkable performances from Dan Piering as Max and David Mura as Khim, along with a staging that never blinks in the face of deep pain.
Max's problems are fueled by his parents. His father, Ellery (John Middleton), is obsessed with saving a species of insect from extinction at the hands of an "evil" developer (Gary Geiken, whose character is bad because, in part, he wears very ugly pants while playing golf) and barely acknowledges his son. His mother, Lily (Carla Noack), is in the final stages of cancer, and her extinction weighs heavily on Max's mind.
Lewis does everything short of underlining these themes onstage, and that sometimes makes for clunky drama. The evil developer is the worst example of this, doing nothing more than serving as a point of conflict than being a fully realized character like the rest of the cast.
Still, the core drama of a family facing their own Armageddon fuels the play, and Lewis writes with a deft touch....As you can guess, Song of Extinction isn't a joy ride, but director Peter Rothstein gives the piece his signature stamp, helping the audience find the real humanity behind the stark hospital room and lonely home that Max inhabits.
Have you seen "Song of Extinction?" If so, what did you think? Share your thoughts in the comments section.
Posted at 1:31 PM on March 2, 2011
by Marianne Combs
Filed under: Theater
Park Square Theatre expands its range and makes ambitious aims with its 2011-2012 season, featuring a total of ten productions on its proscenium stage, and bringing some accomplished local directors to Park Square for the first time. Artistic Director Richard Cook says the season is part of a strategy to help the company build itself up for eventually programming two-stages, for which it is currently in the midst of a capital campaign.
The company released its calendar for the coming year just this morning, which, in addition to its perennial productions of "The Diary of Anne Frank" and "Of Mice and Men" also includes a number of shows that were a hit on Broadway.
The season opens in September with the Tony Award and Pulitzer Prize-winning play, AUGUST: OSAGE COUNTY. Leah Cooper directs the dark comedy, which will star Barbra Kingsley (Kinglsey understudied Estelle Parsons on the national tour; this will be the first time she will actually get to play the part for audiences).
In late October Joel Sass ("The 39 Steps" at the Guthrie, "Blithe Spirit" at the Jungle) directs a new version of "Oliver Twist" that combines Dickens' original text with Victorian music hall tunes.
December heralds a revival of Joseph Vass' THE SOUL OF GERSHWIN: THE MUSICAL JOURNEY OF AN AMERICAN KLEZMER, starring actor Peter Michael Levin as Gershwin, directed by Peter Moore.
Austene Van and Thomasina Petrus created HOT CHOCOLATE, Park Square's new musical revue for the holiday season.
The Tony Award-winning musical RAGTIME, directed by Gary Gisselman, opens in January 2012, and will feature the largest cast to ever appear on the theatre's stage.
In March playwright Carlyle Brown premieres a brand new work, AMERICAN FAMILY, commissioned by Park Square and directed by Marion McClinton.
Ten Thousand Things may have just staged DOUBT, A PARABLE, but Richard Cook has no, well... doubt, that it's worth seeing again, this time starring Linda Kelsey and directed by Craig Johnson.
The season closes in June with Neil Simon's comedy LAUGHTER ON THE 23rd FLOOR, directed by Zach Curtis.