Friday, July 22, 2011

DelShakes Returns

Outdoors under the rustling tress behind Rockwood Mansion, not even the occasional far-off train whistle will break you from the feeling of being transported to another time. More than almost anything, watching live Shakespeare done well, as it's done at the Delaware Shakespeare Festival, will do that.

The play on this night was A Winter's Tale, one of Shakespeare's  lesser-known and late-career plays -- and what a ride it is. Jealousy and devotion, birth and death, love and redemption -- these themes will always remain fresh. As Leontes, the King of Sicilia who becomes overwhelmingly convinced that his wife, Hermione,  is having an affair, Erik Mathew gives an emotional performance. Janice Rowland's Hermione is full of grace. Adam Altman and Molly Cahill Govern stand out as the devoted advisor and gentlewoman to the King and Queen, respectively.

Erik Mathew as Leontes, Janice Rowland as Hermione and Rueben Mitchell as Polixenes.

 The second act, taking place 16 years after the first, is lighter, more humorous and more romantic than the first. Jake Blouch's Autolycus a singing rogue and small-time criminal, is a show stealer, as is David Strattan White as the shepherd's son, the play's clown character. We meet the grown daughter (Isa St. Clair) of Leontes and Hermione, who has fallen in love with the son of the king her mother was accused of being unfaithful with, Florizel (Sean Bradley). His father, played more comically in the second act by Rueben Mitchell, forbids them to marry. Love will prevail -- or so we hope, as we're reminded that the doomed Hermione and Leontes were once deeply in love, too.

The solid DelShakes cast, including a handful of college apprentices, did a great job of entertaining and making Shakespeare accessible. One thing I do know: If it's poorly acted, a modern audience will have a hard time following it. I had never seen or read A Winter's Tale before, and the actors delivered the prose impeccably -- I wasn't lost at any time during the performance.

A Winter's Tale Runs through July 30.

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