From left, dane troy, Craig Marker, Safiya Fredericks and Sharon Shao are excellent in California Shakespeare Theater’s “A Winter’s Tale.” (Courtesy Kevin Berne/California Shakespeare Theater)

From left, dane troy, Craig Marker, Safiya Fredericks and Sharon Shao are excellent in California Shakespeare Theater’s “A Winter’s Tale.” (Courtesy Kevin Berne/California Shakespeare Theater)

Cal Shakes’ ‘Winter’s Tale’ springs to life in second half

Versatile cast boasts music, dance and comedy skills

If you’re thinking that the most memorable scene in Shakespeare’s “The Winter’s Tale”— categorized variously, over time, as a comedy or a late romance — is the very last one, in which a memorial statue of the presumably deceased Queen Hermione comes to life, that’s not exactly true for California Shakespeare Theater’s version; at least not in the way you imagine.

As adapted by Cal Shakes’ ever-inventive artistic director Eric Ting, along with dramaturg Philippa Kelly, and directed by Ting, the play’s somber and dramatic first part is separated from its comical and ultimately pensive second part by an intermission.

In fact, the second half — cheerfully labeled by a sign that reads “A New Play”—is so clever, such fun, that it makes the first half, which in this production tends toward the stiff and bland, seem downright dull by comparison.

In the first part, King Leontes of Sicily (Craig Marker) becomes increasingly convinced, based on virtually nothing, that the pregnant Hermione (a delightfully merry Safiya Fredericks) has been having an affair with his houseguest and lifelong best friend, Polixenes (dane troy), king of Bohemia. But unlike the jealous Othello, Leontes’ rage — at least in this rendition — doesn’t seem to smolder and grow; his anger is just there, with Leontes pacing around the bare circular set (Tanya Orellana, scenic designer), his courtiers nervously at his heels, other cast members quietly watching the action from the periphery.

It isn’t until Hermione’s been shunted off to prison (as her grief-stricken young son, played by Sharon Shao, dies) and given birth to a baby girl, that things really heat up, because that’s when Hermione’s tough and sympathetic friend Paulina arrives with the new baby to plead with Leontes for Hermione’s, and the baby’s, life. As Paulina, the wonderful Cathleen Riddley is, here, a force of nature; on opening night, she was cheered on by the audience.

Still, when the second half begins, it’s a relief when a colorfully festooned moveable mini-stage is rolled onto the round platform, and the actors — now playing the clownish citizens of Bohemia—appear in an assortment of zany outfits (costumes by Ulises Alcala).

In this long scene of revelry in Polixenes’ Bohemia, set 16 years after the events of the first half (as explained, oddly enough, by a narrator named Time), Polixenes’ son (troy again, hilariously grandiose) and Leontes’ banished-since-birth daughter, Perdita (the shape-shifting Shao), are in love.

Here, Cal Shakes’ cast of nine impressively versatile actors, their roles all mixed and matched, get to show off their considerable musical and dancerly skills, everything from sea chanties to “Cotton-Eyed Joe” to a crooned “Only You,” with the invaluable comic and musical genius Phil Wong at the top of his game.

Somehow this descent into silliness makes that final strange scene, in which the repentant Leontes gets a second chance at happiness, more affecting than you’d think.


The Winter’s Tale

Presented by California Shakespeare Theater

Where: Bruns Memorial Amphitheater, 100 California Shakespeare Theater Way, Orinda

When: 7:30 p.m. most Wednesdays-Saturdays; 4 p.m. Sundays; closes Oct. 2

Tickets: $35 to $65



Just Posted

A man walks past the main entrance to the Hotel Whitcomb at Eighth and Market streets on Wednesday, Oct. 7, 2020. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)
Closing hotels could disconnect hundreds from critical health care services

‘That baseline of humanity and dignity goes a long way’

Dreamforce returned to San Francisco in person this week – but with a tiny sliver of past attendance. (Courtesy Salesforce)
Dreamforce returns with hundreds on hand, down from 170,000 in the past

High hopes for a larger Salesforce conference shriveled during the summer

The remnants of trees burned by the Dixie Fire near Antelope Lake, Calif., on Friday, Sept. 3, 2021. (Christian Monterrosa/The New York Times)
California’s wildfires invisible effect: high carbon dioxide emissions

This summer California fires emitted twice as much CO2 as last year

Latinos are dying at a lower rate than white and Black people in California. However, Latinos have had the sharpest increase in the death rate in the last month, rising from 2.4 deaths per 100,000 people in August to 4 per 100,000 in September. (iStock)
Who’s dying in California from COVID-19?

In recent months, those who are dying are younger

The numbers show nearly 14 percent of San Francisco voters who participated in the Sept. 14 recall election wanted to oust Gov. Gavin Newsom from elected office. (Shutterstock photo)
(Shutterstock photo)
How San Francisco neighborhoods voted in the Newsom recall

Sunset tops the list as the area with the most ‘yes’ votes

Most Read