Peace College

Through Feb. 27;

The Winter’s Tale is one of William Shakespeare’s last and less-performed plays, and it’s easy to see why. It’s literally half tragedy and half comedy, with a dark, vengeance-filled first opening act that gives way to a second act filled with songs and romantic misunderstandings; the meaning of the title comes courtesy of a charming child who will soon die: “A sad tale’s best for winter: I have one/ of sprites and goblins.”

The new production of The Winter’s Tale at Peace College’s Leggett Theatre, co-directed by Kenny Gannon and Flynt Burton, offers intriguing insights into this relatively obscure work of Shakespeare, although the production’s eccentric design choices occasionally obscure the meaning of particular scenes.

This play, which was first performed around 1611, encompasses the classic Shakespearean themes of tragedy, prophecy, mistaken identity, tragic pride, disguises, young lovers, fools, kings and reconciliation. Also, in this play, someone gets eaten by a bear. The story opens in Sicilia, where the king, Leontes (Katja Hill), has developed a paranoid conviction that his wife Hermione (Johanna Coats) has cuckolded him with his friend, the Bohemian king Polixenes (Elisabeth Brewer). This results in Leontes’ daughter, Perdita (Cassidy Jane Hutchison), being exiled at birth, subsequent tragedy befalling the king, and many further travails before old wrongs can be rectified.

The all-female production isn’t a problem for the most part, but because all the characters are given gender-neutral blue pajamas, the action becomes difficult to follow in the first act. The use of classical music cues throughout the show also occasionally drags down the action, obscuring the points of some important soliloquies. Things pick up in the second half, though, when the costumes become more specific and the action lightens up (literally and figuratively) as the story moves forward 16 years from a claustrophobic tragedy and we find ourselves in a pastoral romantic comedy in far-off Bohemia.

There are some strong performances throughout this show, which mixes professionals with students: notable among the former are Hill’s implosive work as Leontes, Nicole Quenelle as the lady Paulina, and Emilie Stark-Menneg, who in multiple roles shows off a real talent for physical comedy. Among the students, Aneisha Montague and Sidney Edwards make for a compelling comic duo in the second act, respectively playing a shepherd and his son (accurately called “Clown” in the dramatis personae).

While it’s one of Shakespeare’s odder plays, The Winter’s Tale does have a certain magic in its combination of comedy and tragedy; and, unlike the author’s darker works, this tale ends on a note of redemption. For Shakespeare fans, it’s an opportunity to see one of the Bard’s least-produced plays come alive, and see unique local talents on display.