ARTS Pick: The Winter’s Tale

PVCC Drama teams up with the Hamner Theater to offer up one of the greatest classic, muddled-up love stories in history. Image: J.Stoll

Just as we round out Valentine’s Day, PVCC Drama is teaming up the Hamner Theater to offer up one of the greatest classic, muddled-up love stories in history. Numbered among Shakespeare’s so-called “problem plays,” The Winter’s Tale is an absolute whirlwind of a story, which is an adjective difficult to earn in a classic, five-act structure. Leaping nimbly from intense psychological anguish to giddy, fool-inspired revelry across a plot that covers more than 16 years and two disparate countries, Shakespeare blows the game wide open with a complex examination of jealousy and regret , and farcical comedy resulting in a plethora of marriages. Not to mention the best stage direction: Exit, pursued by a bear.

The production is directed by John Holdren and designed by Kerry Moran, the team responsible for numerous other successful Shakespearean endeavors around Charlottesville.  This particular production also marks the first of what promises to be many collaborations between the Hamner Theater and PVCC’s drama department. The cast itself is filled out by PVCC students and community members.

The plot is complex and multiply layered, but basically boils down to the long-lasting effects of a powerful man in a jealous rage. King Leontes of Sicilia suspects his pregnant wife, Hermione, of infidelity with the visiting King Polixenes of Bohemia. After a failed assassination attempt on Polixenes and a daring, secret escape with the loyal Camillo, Leontes’ fury drives him to overtly and publicly accuse his wife and bring her to trial. Despite a contradictory prophesy from the Oracle of Delphi, he surmises that his newly born daughter must be illegitimate and orders her to be abandoned in the wilderness, only to be found and raised by a kind shepherd on the coasts of Bohemia. The humiliation and strain of all the accusations causes the deaths of both Hermione and Leontes’ son, Mamillius. Finally repentant, Leontes mourns the loss and vows to spend the rest of his days atoning for the loss of his queen and his son, not to mention his young daughter.

Sixteen years pass and, of course, now Polixenes’ son, Prince Florizel, is now in love with Perdita, who is, in fact, Leontes’ lost daughter, though no one knows except her surrogate father, the old shepherd. Since she is apparently a common shepherd’s daughter, Polixenes ardently opposes their love and forbids them from seeing each other. Through much deception and disguise, Florizel and Perdita escape the fury of Polixenes and return to Sicilia. The rest is classic Shakespeare, and I won’t give any of it away to anyone who hasn’t seen it before. 

This particular play is categorized largely by historians and academics as one of Shakespeare’s “problem plays,” in that it does not easily conform to comedy, tragedy, or history. The first three acts are rife with dark, psychological turmoil, whereas the last two are textbook comedy, and the whole play ends with an almost hilariously fantastical deus ex machine. It’s one of Shakespeare’s later plays, and it serves as a noteworthy example of his whims and experimentation in later life.

Through 2/17  Piedmont Virginia Community College Dickinson Building Maxwell Theatre

**Correction: The original post mistakenly credited John Holdren and Kerry Moran as the creative team behind the Hamner’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream.  The creative team for that production was Carol Pedersen, Boomie Pedersen and J. Taylor.