‘Winter’s Tale’ is here; can spring be far behind?


The nice thing about Shakespeare’s “The Winter’s Tale” is that the cold blasts of the first act turn into the gentle breezes of the finale. Unlike “Othello,” which is about a long-simmering jealousy that erupts in tragedy, this play starts off with a jealous rage but manages to end happily.

Leontes, king of Sicilia, suspects his wife of infidelity when she urges the visiting Polixenes to extend his stay another week. Before one has settled into a seat at Theatricum Botanicum, Leontes explodes into a jealous rage, plots the death of his supposed rival and jails his poor, innocent wife. He rejects the legitimacy of his newborn daughter and orders her abandoned in a desolate area. Soon after, his son dies of illness. How wicked can a king be?

Leontes learns of his mistake before the sun sets and then struggles with his very guilty conscience. Has the man been punished enough? The plot must thicken, of course, and since this is a tragicomedy, all ends well. We are treated to a gay sheep-shearing celebration and the comic antics of several clownish characters. Of course, the daughter has been found and reared and the queen is not as dead as one had thought.

Ellen Geer, the director, deals intelligently and neatly with the many contradictions that make this a difficult play to produce. The acting, alas, is inconsistent, but the enunciation is generally clear.

Jim LeFave, as Leontes, comes on quickly and much too strong with his jealous rage. A little more subtlety could be shown when his suspicions are aroused, but he rants and raves before one has a chance to understand what he is going on about.

His queen, Hermione, is played by the ever reliable Melora Marshall, who singsongs her way through the dialogue. Polixenes is in the good hands of Abner Genece, and the loyal Camillo is sympathetic as played by Ted Barton. Ernestine Phillips, as the queen’s advocate, would do well to slow down her delivery and articulate more carefully. The young royals who fall in love are the lovely Willow Geer and handsome Jamison Driscoll.

The clowns in the cast were all delightful, especially Alan Blumenfeld as Autolycus, the ultimate conman. The two shepherds who find the king’s daughter are well played by Larry Gelman and Rick Davis. Leslie Nia Lewis has a small part as “Time,” and does it charmingly.

One can accept the rusticity of the sets, but the makeshift “tablecloth and curtain” costumes detract from production. If one new costume had been bought every year since the company began, there would be 38 quality costumes by now.

“The Winter’s Tale” is rarely performed and Shakespeare lovers can now see it on a Sunday matinee, 3 p.m., through Sept. 26. Other productions in repertory this year are “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” “Under Milk Wood” by Dylan Thomas and “Watch on the Rhine” by Lillian Hellman.

The Will Geer Theatricum Botanicum is located at 1419 N. Topanga Blvd. Reservations can be made by calling 310.455.3723.