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Dramashop weaves a brilliant narrative in Tale

The Winter's Tale

An MIT Dramashop Production.

Written by William Shakespeare.

Directed by Michael Ouellette.

Starring Mukund Venkatesh '95, Michelle Starz '94, Richard Davis G, and Eugene Schuster '94.

April 2729 and May 46, 8 p.m.

Kresge Little Theater.

By J. Michael Andresen
Staff Reporter

While the MIT Shakespeare Ensemble is presenting A Night of Scenes, the MIT Dramashop has taken on one of the bard's lesser known works and also transformed it into a night of scenes. Each movement is so carefully crafted, each line so poetically delivered, that each scene appears as an entity unto itself. Yet director Michael Ouellette's players weave together these microcosms to tell the play's story in a brilliantly cohesive narrative.

The Winter's Tale is Shakespeare's tribute to Sophocles' Oedipus Rex. It tells the story of the royal family of Sicilia, headed by King Leontes (Mukund Venkatesh '95). His wife is the good Queen Hermione (Michelle Starz '94), whom the king accuses of bearing the bastard child of King Polixenes of Bohemia (Richard Davis G). His jealousy induces him to renounce his wife and abandon his newborn daughter in the wilderness of Bohemia. Even when the Oracle at Delphi tells him in no uncertain terms that his wife has been chaste, he refuses to believe it and curses his wife and Apollo's Oracle. This enrages Apollo to the point that he takes from Leontes both his wife and his young son and heir, driving Leontes to grief at last. He does not, however, poke his eyes out, and a reasonable catharsis is achieved by the end of the play after a lengthened comedic interlude.

The acting in this production is superb, with each member of the cast displaying proficiency in a remarkably wide spectrum of emotions. Venkatesh is almost scary in his obtuse jealous rage, spitting bitter vitriol at everyone around him. The moment that his wife and son are struck down, however, and he finally realizes the enormity of his actions, the anger changes to a deep and painful sorrow. Venkatesh makes this transformation so profound that soft sniffling could be heard from one or two members of the audience.

However, Starz's Hermione truly stole the show. Her tender portrayal of the loving wife and doting mother made Leontes seem all the more cruel. Hermione's ability to forgive her undeserving husband is nearly as amazing as is Starz's ability to make us believe that it could happen. While most would be cloyingly obsequious and suppliant, Starz manages to make Hermione strong and independent, yet still patient and understanding, which makes her forgiveness all the more heartbreaking.

The supporting cast is just as strong. Davis convincingly shares the profound hurt of Polixenes when accused of his supposed infidelity by Leontes. Eugene Schuster '94 is almost single-handedly responsible for the comic relief after intermission, and Katie Leo '95 is wonderfully affecting as the wise attendant lady. Oullette had some impressive talent to mold, and has created a masterpiece.

The technical aspects of the production were also very well-conceived, though not flawless. The set is very pretty to look at, but squeaks and echoes when trod upon, which is quite distracting at times. The costuming is internally consistent and impeccably detailed, but three-piece suits seem ill-fitted for kings who consult oracles. The original music by Adam Lindsay G is melodic and appropriate, but somewhat shakily performed.

Still, these do not detract from all the wonderful details that make this an amazing performance. From the eerie effect of falling snow on the guilty Leontes, to the bold lighting design of Herrick Goldman and the students of 21M735 (), to the sincere portrayals of the cast, the scenes are presented to the audience like courses in a sumptuous meal, pretty enough to paint.