The Winter's Tale

Local Arts Reviews

The Winter's Tale

Austin Playhouse, through Jan. 24

Running Time: 2 hrs., 20 min.

Earlier today, I visited some old friends and acquaintances who told me an old story -- a fairy tale, in a way, both fictitious and highly fanciful. In the tale, which was written long ago by a man you may have heard of, one Will Shakespeare, a king named Leontes believes that his wife, Hermione, is sleeping with his best friend. She isn't, and everyone tells him so, but he refuses to listen. He incarcerates her, and in prison she gives birth to a girl. When presented with his daughter, Leontes orders that she be abandoned on a distant shore and that Hermione be put on trial as an adulteress.

This is only the beginning of the story.

The friends and acquaintances were Robert Faires, my editor at the Chronicle, who both acts in and directs the tale; his wife, Barbara Chisholm, and their daughter, Rosalind; David Stahl, whom I went to school with at UT 15 years ago; Lowell Bartholomee; Bernadette Nason; and Judson L. Jones. The only person in the cast that I didn't know personally was Jud's wife, Christa Kimlicko Jones.

I believe a critic's job is to be an objective observer, to be "uninfluenced by emotions or personal prejudices," to quote one definition, but considering the situation I encountered in this production, I can't for one second imagine that I can be as objective as I believe a critic should be. I know (and like) everyone involved, so how can I be objective? Should I even try? If a play deeply moves me, shouldn't my experience be considered valid, no matter the storyteller? Isn't every opinion in some way valid, whether informed or uninformed, whether influenced by personal prejudice or not?

Such questions can't be answered in a brief review. So what I'm left with is what I saw, which was this: an Austin Shakespeare Festival production at Austin Playhouse; people singing karaoke and serving me and other audience members fine chicory coffee and sweets before the play began; some fun and not-so-fun staging, the latter because the set-pieces, which consist of living room furniture, are arranged as if for a proscenium theatre, which pushes the action to the front of the thrust stage and flattens the staging out, thereby cheating the sides (if you go, try to sit in the middle section); and one of the truest, most moving performances I've ever seen in a live theatre turned in by David Stahl as the jealous Leontes, supported by a group of able and admirable performers, most particularly Barbara Chisholm as the chaste and noble Hermione.

Earlier tonight, as I sat eating dinner with my 5-year-old son, I began to cry, thinking of the play. He asked me about my tears, and when I told him it was because of a play in which a boy died, he got out of his chair, hugged me, and said, "Don't be sad, Daddy. I love you. Everything is going to be all right." And it was. And it is.

Despite my personal prejudices, I suggest you don't hesitate to go and see my friends this week -- but only if you don't mind shedding a few public tears, and only if you'd like to see a truly magical story of hope from despair, joy from grief, and life from death.

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Shakespeare in Austin, The Winter's Tale, Shakespeare, Robert Faires, Barbara Chisholm, Rosalind Faires, Lowell Bartholomee, Judson L. Jones, Bernadette Nason, David Stahl, Christa Kimlicko Jones, Austin Shakespeare Festival, Austin Playhouse

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