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Review: Comedy and magic blend in Idaho Shakespeare Festival's ‘Winter’s Tale’

Published: August 6, 2012

By DANA OLAND — doland@idahostatesman.com

Once upon a time there was a king afflicted by jealousy and madness, a family torn apart and a kingdom thrown into chaos — and so begins “The Winter’s Tale,” which opened at the Idaho Shakespeare Festival on Saturday.

Written late in his life, this is one of Shakespeare’s best and most complex plays, both in language and theme. He takes elements he worked on in other plays and weaves them together.

Jesse Berger’s production unfolds like a pop-up storybook full of magic and art.

From David Barber’s whimsical set, tinged with symbols of astrology and alchemy, to Sara Tosetti’s colorful 19th-century-esque costumes, it’s an enchanting night of theater.

Berger and his design team tell this story exceedingly well, with clarity and charm.

Kings Leontes (David Anthony Smith) and Polixenes (Lynn Robert Berg) rule Sicilia and Bohemia, respectively. And they are lifelong friends — “brothers,” they say. And just like Cain and Abel, their love for one another is tinged by suspicion and doubt.

In a moment of vulnerability at a winter solstice celebration, Leontes suspects that Polixenes has won the affection of Leontes’ pregnant wife, Hermione (Lise Bruneau). Leontes accuses her, immediately becomes a tyrant and devastates his family and subjects.

Smith turns in a wonderfully heartrending performance. His jealousy comes on as if a disease — a “tremor cordis,” he calls it.

His suspicion deepens and Smith physically diminishes, falling deeper into madness in Lear-like fashion. The more he accuses her, the bigger toll it takes.

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Berg, an actor who’s been with this company since he was a college student, continues to mature into powerful and commanding roles. His Polixenes is such a role.

Bruneau is a compelling and wise Hermione, and brings a lovely sense of grace to the role. Richard Klautsch is delightful as the stalwart Camillo.

Laurie Birmingham, who was marvelous as Juliet’s nurse in “Romeo and Juliet” earlier in the season, is a revelation as Paulina, a courtier who comes to Hermione’s defense. She’s a no-nonsense, don’t-mess-with-me best friend.

The second act takes us to Bohemia, a wildly colorful and exotic land filled with a patchwork of country styles all stitched together with Slavic style.

Kimbre Lancaster as the grown-up Perdita — Leontes banishes this daughter as an infant because he suspects she’s not his — and Miles Gaston Villanueva as Florizel, Polixenes’ son, are terrific as young lovers who must overcome their parents’ histories.

M.A. Taylor and Juan Rivera Lebron are hysterical as the Old Shepherd and his son.

And there are loads of fun character performances in the cast, including Lina Chambers, Veronica Von Tobel and Tom Ford as the musical rogue Autoyclus.

Dana Oland: 377-6442, Twitter: @IDS_DanaOland

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