Monday, July 13, 2015

Two Plays in Shakespeare's Garden: Will Miracles Never Cease?

            The Bay Colony Shakespeare Company calls the two works it's now presenting in Plymouth's Community Center for the Arts plays "about light, love and magic." What's really miraculous is that a professional company this good is now in its third season of offering high-quality Shakespeare in Plymouth and other area towns.
            "The Winter's Tale," which opened last weekend, is one of Shakespeare's late romances, a particularly apt example of the 'romance' genre: a tale that moves from apparent tragedy to a redemption that may stretch credibility but satisfies the deeper yearnings of human heart.
            King Leontes, played by company director Neil McGarry of Marshfield, an actor who once again shows himself capable of commanding attention in any role, really has no claim on our sympathies except that he's a human being. A standard Shakespearean monarch capable of turning tyrant in a flash, his wholly unmotivated jealousy destroys the life of his blameless queen -- a la Othello, only he doesn't have the excuse of being corrupted by an Iago-figure. Somehow in an instant, like catching a fatal infection while out for a morning walk, he manages to corrupt himself by groundless self-feeding suspicion. The same disease of the mind convinces him that his newborn daughter is not his own child, so he has the infant exposed in a barren place.
            But romance is a literary opening to fairy tale and draws on the deep primal tuning to wonder and marvel that hooks us in children's literature, at least those tales that have a happy ending. In fact in Shakespeare's time that's what "a winter tale" meant: a tall story.
            Perdita (the name means "lost one") is carried to the wild country of Bohemia, a real name given to a stage creation, by a kindly courtier, who is eaten by a bear for his troubles. (No romance there.) Raised by simple shepherds, the girl has a natural grace and genuineness that charms a prince, who for some reason is hiding from his father.
            Part of the unstated metaphysics in romance is that an 'unspoiled' upbringing can cleanse the corruptions of the hothouse atmosphere of life at court. It's Cinderella the prince wants; not the pampered sisters. Similarly, if you're depressed in London, go spend some time in the forest of Arden -- well, actually the plot of another play, "As You Like It," but something similar is going on in this tale. There's a disease in the king's mind; perhaps power really does corrupt. And the pastoral folk of Perdita's upbringing -- even the truly simple-minded rubes whose "cozening" by the complacent hustler-clown Autolycus Shakespeare invites the audience to enjoy -- somehow help restore the balance.
            It's the 'return' of Perdita, the lost child, to Leontes's court that restores 'truth and natural goodness' to this world. For me, the high point of Bay Colony's production is observing McGarry transform himself into a sufficiently withered and guilt-haunted Leontes -- as if the theatrical 16 years' passage the plot calls for has magically taken place while the audience was chatting at intermission -- in order to enable the impact of 'bad transformed to good' to register fully on his character. In McGarry's hands Leontes is not just an example of regal folly; he's a suffering human being.
            The cast is uniformly strong. Poornima Kirby, who played opposite McGarry in the company's "Much Ado About Nothing" last year, is equally convincing as the wronged queen Hermione. Erica Simpson, another young veteran, who was the dark Lady Mac in the company's "MacBeth" last summer, hits the right note in a diametrically opposite role as the saving-grace Perdita. Meredith Stypinski, who stepped into a crucial role at the last moment, is a strong Paulina -- the woman who speaks truth to power. Cam Torres has a paunchy swagger as the gleeful conman Autolycus.
            "The Winter's Tale" can be somewhat harder to follow than the more popular comedies. Audiences who know "Much Ado" from the popular film may not have seen a production of "Tale," in a theater or on screen. Perusing a copy of the play beforehand, or even a plot summary, may be advised.
            Bay Colony Shakespeare Company doesn't slight the wonder and romance of the work's plot. And miracles do happen on stage.

(The Bay Colony Shakespeare Company presents two of Shakespeare’s most magical plays, "The Winter's Tale" and "A Midsummer Night's Dream" in repertory in Plymouth starting through Aug. 2. For dates and tickets see