Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Connecticut and the Berkshires

The Winter's Tale
Hartford Stage
Review by Fred Sokol

Also see Zander's recent review of The Legend of Georgia McBride

Omar Robinson and
Jamie Ann Romero

Photo by T Charles Erickson
The Winter's Tale at Hartford Stage through May 7th is sublime and divine, Shakespeare at its very finest. Director Melia Bensussen flips a number of artistic switches and each encourages a positive production turn in this, her first Shakespeare at the company where she is the current artistic leader. In all, this romantic, dramatic, comedic and, very much to its benefit, musical presentation enthralls throughout.

It is not cheating, but rather essential to realize at least a significant portion of William Shakespeare's storyline before watching one of his works. It is sometimes enough to decipher and understand the language. The plot of this particular piece finds Sicilian King Leontes (Nathan Darrow) meeting with one of his friends, Polixenes (Omar Robinson), who happens to be king in rural Bohemia. There's a quick problem, however, when Leontes flies into a jealous rage when he sees his wife Hermione (Jamie Ann Romero) conversing with Polixenes. Leontes is sure his wife is an adulteress. Leontes hopes to do away with Polixenes but the man gets out of the region before that can happen. Camillo (Carman Lacivita), one of Leontes' trusted assistants, accompanies Polixenes, whom he knows to be innocent. Meanwhile, Hermione is imprisoned, where she gives birth to a daughter. A very wise Paulina (Lana Young) brings the baby to Leontes with a hope that he will be kind. That is not the case and the little one is spirited off to a desert. It is said that Hermione dies and Leontes' son Mamillius (Jotham Burrello) is so shocked that he passes away.

It so happens that, 16 years later, the girl, named Perdita (Delfin Gökhan Meehan), is very much okay. She has been cared for and raised by a Shepherd (Jeremy Webb). You now have evolution at the beginning of the fourth of five acts. It would neither be fitting nor fair to reveal the conclusion of the play.

Upon entering the theater, the audience finds a spare thrust stage with but a barren tree standing. This evokes the wise words an exemplary scenic designer based in western Massachusetts years back once offered when questioned about settings for Shakespeare. Keith Henery, who often created sets at onetime regional theater StageWest, advised that it was best to allow for the great Bard's words to carry forth. Thus, a sword or a sun or a cross might suffice. Hartford Stage's scenic designer Cameron Anderson and Bensussen are on the same page. They situate, appropriately, the single tree. Moods vary as lighting designer Evan Anderson shifts hues and shades. After intermission, for example, when the action transfers to a place filled with grass, grain and hay, the rear of the stage is abundant with green, golden, and tan coloring–all of which is vividly transportive.

Music is a vital, uplifting, animating component to Bensussen's rendering of The Winter's Tale. Liam Bellman-Sharpe is music director and Pornchanok Kanchanabanca provides original music while also designing sound. Actress and multi-instrumentalist Pearl Rhein (also playing the character of Autolycus later in the show) enlivens throughout, playing exquisite violin. Rhein, who was in the original cast of Natasha, Pierre, & the Great Comet of 1812 on Broadway and who also has a credit for appearing on television's "Succession," is distinctively talented. The director also includes a couple of guitarists, a ukulele player, and a drum as well. In all, the musical dimension enhances because its versatility is affecting and even inspiring. The music is not merely background but an active, supporting ingredient.

Bensussen has assembled a uniformly strong cast of performers as she passes Shakespeare's verse from one character to the next, and all of the actors excel. It's almost as if genres shift during the evolution of this play. For much of the time, it is tension-filled and highly dramatic. During the final portion, it becomes far more diverting and even magical. One should take note of Paulina, a woman who is smart and savvy; she is worth contemplation. Settle in, at Hartford Stage, for a multi-faceted fully engaging experience.

The Winter's Tale runs through May 7, 2023, at Hartford Stage, 50 Church St., Hartford CT. For tickets and information, please call 860-527-5151 or visit