Adapted by dramaturg Andrew Joseph Richardson and director Sarah Kitz, Shakespeare in the Ruff’s compact, technically low-frills iteration of Shakespeare’s story of malignant patriarchal insecurity and re-marriage unfolds in an un-cordoned corner of Withrow Park, amidst tall trees and winding paths, offering audiences a pleasingly laid-back environment in which to engage with one of the Bard’s most tonally strange works.
Moving from chaos to order, The Winter’s Tale is, in the strictest sense, a comedy, but its first half is soaked in violence and tragedy. Lacking evidence or witnesses, King Leontes of Sicily (Richard Lee) accuses his wife, Hermione (Tiffany Martin), of having an affair with King Polixenes of Bohemia (Jason Gray), who’s been paying them an extended visit. Leontes airs his grievances, orders Polixenes to be executed, puts Hermione on trial and things go from bad to abysmal. Until, after a prolonged period of remorse, what’s lost is recovered, secrets are revealed and alliances renewed. After a bleak winter, spring brings resurrection in a fable-like, surprisingly moving conclusion.
This particular Winter’s Tale, however, concludes with an entirely new, lengthy monologue, written by Kitz, that marks an awkward departure from the text. Besides falling short of Shakespeare’s rhetorical standard, the monologue, which sweeps across great swaths of history and seems partly inspired by Virginia Woolf’s Orlando, is a kind of corrective to this 400-year-old play’s failure to address everything from toxic masculinity to colonialism to the more immediate concerns of how to repair a colossal case of marital disharmony and inequality.
To be sure, everything in this monologue is a valid, intelligent response to The Winter’s Tale – and this is exactly what makes it so pedantic and superfluous. I wish Richardson and Kitz had more confidence in the play’s capacity for provoking discussion and the audience’s capacity to generate their own responses.
Among the actors, special mention must be made of young Eponine Lee, so winsomely assured as Mamilius, Leontes and Hermione’s son; of Andrea Carter as Perdita, their daughter; and of Jani Lauzon, who has a lot of fun as the Old Shepherd in the playful Bohemia-set second half.
Props to props designer Isabel Martins for furnishing a key scene with a luminous pearly orb encased in a crimson chamber; to scenographer Claire Hill, for the lovely appearance of a paper boat on a bedsheet sea; and to sound designer Maddie Bautista for punctuating the play’s many transitions with a variety of resonant bells.
With the exception of Eponine Lee’s awesome bear costume, the costumes are purely utilitarian and the lighting necessarily basic.
The loveliest visual element in this open-air production was the way dusk yielded to penumbra just as the story began its shift from darkness to light.