Present Company: The Winter's Tale
With Shakespeare's 'problem play,' you get a two-for-one, comedy and drama
Reviewed by Adam Roberts, Fri., Oct. 14, 2011
Present Company: The Winter's TaleRain Lily Farm, 914 Shady Ln.
Through Oct. 15
"Exit, pursued by a bear." Shakespeare's instruction to Antigonus is perhaps his most famous stage direction of all, and it's faithfully executed in Present Company's current production of The Winter's Tale. Audience members, however, are more likely to be pursued by a chicken.
Not really, of course. Egg-layers are kept at bay on the enchanting Rain Lily Farm, where Present Company has set up shop to tell its Tale. The simple yet effective set, with its towering curtain strung between two trees and wooden runway jutting into the yard, greets patrons at this most unlikely location for staging the Bard. The skeleton of Rain Lily's disrobed teepee becomes Hermione's prison cell, contributing greatly to the organic, "found space" feel that provides this staging with much of its uniqueness.
The Winter's Tale is often cited as one of Shakespeare's "problem plays," so called because of its elusive classification: Is it a drama (Acts I-III) or a comedy (Acts IV-V)? As one might imagine, this buttressing of genres creates an added interpretive burden for those who stage the work, as does a 16-year lapse in time between Acts III and IV (quite a singular aspect in the Shakespearean canon). In addition to the play's problematic classification, some interpretive problems are likewise evident in the Present Company production. For instance, the juxtaposition of what initially feels like a site-specific performance "down on the farm" seems somewhat at odds with costumes that suggest a more urban, mid-20th century setting. And although the "found" set is indeed creative and interesting, it does not provide the dramaturgical information necessary for a clear understanding of place, time, and purpose.
The benefit of a "problem play" is that you get a two-for-one, comedy and drama in the same event. And this production is just that: an event. Although there are those issues of convention and interpretation with the production itself, the environment in which the audience and actors interact provides significant interest from a seat atop a hay bale or blanket.
This Winter's Tale may be in need of some tending, but the band of Present artists certainly exhibits the potential and passion required for growing future productions that can "provide glimpses of the infinite," the company's self-stated mission.