“The Winter’s Tale” Presented by Seattle Shakespeare

Pardon me if I wax lyrical, but this version of “The Winter’s Tale” directed by Sheila Daniels is one of the best Shakespeare productions I’ve seen in a long time. Let’s begin with the set. You walk into the theatre where the curtains are open and the stage is fully visible. On it are a very few wooden risers with oriental rugs thrown over them. Unevenly placed toward the back of the stage are a number of very tall, narrow wooden rectangles covered in what appears to be tapestries. Simple but so effective!

The story is an old one: husband thinks his pregnant wife is having an affair with his good friend, banishes the sweet innocent and destroys their lives, but by the end of the play, almost all is well. Darragh Kennan as King Leontes, the jealous husband manifests his mistaken notion with overwhelming, believable emotion. He offers the most powerful example of the jealous husband you’re likely to see on local stages any time soon. In his hands, jealousy and madness become one.

Brenda Joyner as the wrongly accused pregnant wife Hermione, begins the play as a charming and playful innocent then transforms into a destroyed, disbelieving victim. She too is outstanding in the role. The entire cast plays their roles with aplomb.

As I noted, equally important in the success of this production are the set (Tommer Peterson) and the lighting (Reed Nakayama). Those background rectangles that make up the set morph from interior backdrops to outdoor scenes, to abstractions. The lights play on them with both subtlety and intensity. The effect is thrilling. It is elegant simplicity that just gets better and better as the play progresses.

In the second act we meet Perdita (Jasmine Jean Sim), the now grown-up daughter of King Leontes and Queen Hermione. As a baby she was set adrift in a basket in the hopes of saving her from Leontes’ wrath. A simple shepherd found and raised her.

Now if you know anything about Shakespeare, you know that she will be reunited with her parents and all will be well in the end. But getting to that end requires a reversal of the emotions of the first act. That act was grim! Somewhat horrifying!

Act II is lightness and merriment. MJ Sieber masterfully orchestrates much of the humor. The simple peasants celebrate their flocks and harvest with songs and dances. Perdita is charming, innocent, lovely. In the end love wins out. She’s returned to her parents, and the audience can leave happy and well entertained.

Through Oct. 2, Seattle Shakespeare Company, at Seattle Repertory Theatre, 155 Mercer St., (206 733-8222 or seattleshakespeare.org).

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