By Joanne Engelhardt published on August 15, 2019 by The Santa Cruz Sentinel
There are joys in abundance in Santa Cruz Shakespeare’s third 2019 offering “The Winter’s Tale,” a quasi-comedy – maybe what today’s world would call a “rom-com” — which isn’t produced as frequently as others in William Shakespeare’s arsenal of plays.
Clearly one of the scene-stealers at play’s start is Ulises Alcala’s sleek, elegant, flowing long gowns literally shimmering and swaying on the ladies in the court of King Leontes and Queen Hermione of Sicilia.
Their lovely dresses and the formal tuxes worn by several of the male actors bring to mind the joie de vie of Noel Coward’s stylish evening wear in his sophisticated 1920s and ’30s plays.
Second up is the top-notch acting by a number of this season’s performers. As King Leontes, Ian Merrill Peakes is alternately loving and affectionate, disbelieving and unhappy, angry and out-of-control. And that’s all in one scene!
Peakes is at the peak of his performance in this role, so it must be especially satisfying for him to be sharing the stage with his real-life wife, Karen Peakes, who plays the incorrectly wronged queen, and by their young son Owen Peakes, playing (naturally) the King and Queen’s son Mamillius. It’s simply charming to watch the King look lovingly at his son as he admonishes him to run outside “…to play, boy, play. And play, too.”
But that’s because the King is eager to see the very pregnant queen in private to accuse her of having a lover who impregnated her and made him a cuckold. He admits to being unsure and even reflects about Mamillius: “… my son … who I do think is mine. I hope is mine.”
The Queen looks stately as he enters, in a chic silver gown that hugs her ever-growing tummy. “Polixenes swelled you,” he spits out at her, to which she responds, “And I say he has not.”
But King Leontes doesn’t believe her, so angry is he with Polixenes (Lindsay Smiling), the king of Bohemia. Calling her a “bed swirler” (which is actually quite a sexy name for an adulterous), Leontes sends her off to prison to await trial.
But the trial has to wait until after she has given birth (to a baby girl). As the court convenes, as if on cue the wind blows and there’s a great billowing of the silky curtains above the audience. Now looking frail in a simple faint yellow mid-calf length dress, the Queen declares “If I should be condemned, it is rigor, not love. Apollo: Be my judge.”
Always looking wronged and determined to prove her innocence, the Queen (Peakes) apparently is convincing because the court finds the Queen not guilty.
This is when things get a bit messy because, well, it’s not nice to make Apollo mad.
As happens with Shakespearean plays, sometimes the plot becomes secondary to the quality of the acting, the beauty of the surroundings and the staging itself.
Director Raelle Myrick-Hodges keeps a whole passel of balls floating in this production, aided by the elegantly costumed Patty Gallagher, looking for all the world like Queen Victoria or some such. (In the program her character’s name is Time.)
As Time, one of her cardinal tasks is to move the half-moon disks inside the gigantic circle at the back of the stage. One disk is yellow, indicating daylight, while the blue disk is, of course, nighttime. Time gives a gentle push to one or the other, and they move effortlessly so the audience knows whether it is night or day. Later, she gets to herald the passage of 16 years so that a newborn baby can now be a young woman.
Once again, Dipu Gupta’s pink walls stand out, especially because there’s little adorning them save one portrait of the queen, which is missing as the play progresses. Occasionally a chair or two appears, is used, then whisked off via two openings between the walls of the set.
Still more standout acting performances in “Tale” are given by Carol Halstead as Camillo, a lady of Sicilia who seems to work both sides of the fence (at times for the King and at times for the Queen); Tommy A. Gomez in a red fez hat as Antigonus, a lord of Sicilia, and Allie Pratt as the grown-up embodiment of the King and Queen’s daughter, Perdita.
Then there’s Allen Gilmore who literally steals the show as Autolycus, described by Shakespeare as “a rogue.” Rogue, he is, and delightfully so as he literally dances and skips down the theatre aisle, singing merrily as he moves along at a fast clip. He’s a pickpocket as well, but a charming one and later gives back what he stole.
Though things get a bit muddled in the middle, the audience becomes animated at play’s end as a statue of the Queen (Hermione) miraculously comes to life and she reunites with her young daughter Perdita.
Never doubt that ol’ Will doesn’t know how to send his fans home with a smile.
‘The Winter’s Tale’
Presented by: Santa Cruz Shakespeare
Directed by: Raelle Myrick-Hodges
When: In repertoire with two other productions through Sept. 1
Where: The Grove in DeLaveaga Park, 501 Upper Park Road, Santa Cruz
Tickets: $25 – $60; discounted rates on website
Details: 831-460-6399 or www.santacruzshakespeare.org