Monday, November 30, 2015

Review: The Winter's Tale

People's Light and Theatre Company's The Winter's Tale, by William Shakespeare, directed by Guy Hollands. Reviewed by Wendy Rosenfield. Featuring Greg Wood, Christopher Patrick Mullins, Mary Elizabeth Scallen, Peter Pryor

Review: The Winter's Tale


By Wendy Rosenfield

for the Inquirer

Here’s irony for you: for its production of Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale, People’s Light and Theatre Company imported Scottish director Guy Hollands, and Hollands, in turn, presents the play as a winter festival celebrating community, featuring locally crafted design elements and edible treats. It’s sort of a riff on this script’s own sheep-shearing feast, during which area farmers and tradesmen celebrate the coming of spring by wearing masks, singing and performing. And in many ways, the gimmick works. 

A short pre-curtain green show featuring the cast on an outdoor stage under tin can lamps and beside a warming fire, general admission tickets, and post-show pagan revelry, including a burning of the “Witch of Winter” (a wire-and-straw sculpture) all add to a sense of togetherness. This particular work is Shakespeare’s “kitchen sink” play, with two very different halves (a winter tragedy in which jealous King Leontes accuses his faithful wife, Hermione, of cuckoldry, followed by a spring romance between royal offspring) cleaved by his famous and most famously tragicomic stage direction, “Exit, pursued by a bear.” The Winter’s Tale needs all the unity it can get.

But Hollands also indulged in a bit of kitchen sinking. Philip Witcomb’s sets and costumes evoke, simultaneously, a traveling carnival and Victorian junk shop. Old-timey circus banners flank parts of the newly-built thrust stage, while over the proscenium hangs a bough laden with taxidermied trophies, antlers and seasonal greenery. In the first act, Leontes’ castle is constructed of haphazardly nailed two-by-fours, and characters wear the kind of musty men’s fur coats and women’s mutton-chop sleeves that would suit one of Edward Gorey’s decrepit mansions. Hollands may have imported a bit of the vibe from his home base, Glasgow’s Citizens Theatre, said to be haunted by a ghost that looks significantly like the later incarnation of wronged Hermione, and leans toward a mystical reading of the play’s later events (which I won’t reveal here, just in case).

Peter Pryor’s Autolycus, a scoundrel who also functions as a Brecht/Weill/Swordfishtrombones-era Tom Waitsian bandleader of sorts, binds together as many of these disparate elements as he can, his down and dirty barking one of the production’s signature satisfactions. Christopher Patrick Mullen’s half-mad Leontes and Nancy McNulty’s damaged Hermione also resonate. But Hollands’ vision, at its core, chooses style over substance. Lucky for him and for People’s Light, he has phenomenal style.

Playing at: People’s Light and Theatre Company, 39 Conestoga Rd., Malvern. Through Sun., Mar. 3. Tickets: $25 to $45. Information: 610-644-3500 or

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About this blog

Toby Zinman's night job since 2006 is theater critic for the Inquirer where she reviews New York and London as well as Philadelphia. Her day job: Prize-winning prof at UArts, author of five books about modern and contemporary drama, and doer of scholarly deeds (winner of five NEH grants, Fulbright lecturer at Tel Aviv University, visiting professor in China). She was recently named by American Theatre magazine "one of the twelve most influential critics in America."

Wendy Rosenfield has written freelance features and theater reviews for The Inquirer since 2006. She was theater critic for the Philadelphia Weekly from 1995 to 2001, after which she enjoyed a five-year baby-raising sabbatical. She serves on the board of the American Theatre Critics Association, was a participant in the Bennington Writer's Workshop, a 2008 NEA/USC Fellow in Theater and Musical Theater, and twice was guest critic for the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival's Region II National Critics Institute. She received her B.A. from Bennington College and her M.L.A. from the University of Pennsylvania. She also is a fiction writer, was proofreader to a swami, publications editor for the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, and spends all her free time working out and driving people places. Follow her on Twitter @WendyRosenfield.

Jim Rutter has reviewed theater for The Inquirer since September, 2011. Since 2006, he covered dance, theater and opera for the Broad Street Review, and has also written for many suburban newspapers, including The Main Line Times. In 2009, the National Endowment for the Arts awarded him a Fellowship in Arts Journalism. Thames & Hudson released his updated and revised version of Ballet and Modern Dance in June, 2012. From 1998 to 2005, he taught philosophy and logic at Drexel, and then Widener University. He also coaches Olympic Weightlifting for Liberty Barbell, and has competed at the national level in that sport since 2001.

Merilyn Jackson regularly writes on dance for The Inquirer and other publications. She specializes in the arts, literature, food, travel, and Eastern European culture and politics. In 2001, she was dance critic in residence at the Festival of Contemporary Dance in Bytom, Poland; in 2005, she received an NEA Critics’ Fellowship to Duke University’s Institute for Dance Criticism. She likes to say that dance was her first love but that when she discovered writing she began to cheat on dance. Now that she writes about dance, she’s made an honest woman of herself, although she also writes poetry.

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