Bears, babies, clowns and pickpockets engage in a tale of love, death, friendship and betrayal in the Yale Repertory Theatre’s latest Shakespeare production.
“The Winter’s Tale” began its three-week run at the Rep last Friday. Director Liz Diamond, the chair of the School of Drama’s directing program, said she worked to emphasize the play’s magical and redemptive qualities, which resonate with the feeling of “faithless times” in today’s world.
“The play is so self-consciously theatrical, filled with rough magic and patterned with fakery,” Diamond said. “Shakespeare is enjoining us to awake our faith by requiring us to suspend our disbelief.”
With aspects of both tragedy and comedy, “The Winter’s Tale” tells the story of a jealous king who tears his family apart only to be reconciled years later by his children. Like many of Shakespeare’s works, the play occurs in two kingdoms, Sicilia and Bohemia.
In order to emphasize the differences between the harsh realm of the king and the more festive Bohemia, the sets and costumes alternate between a cold, vertical, grayscale aesthetic and a warm, horizontal and colorful look, Diamond said. In Sicilia, the stage features high panels with doors and austere chandeliers, while the characters wear stiff 1910s suits and evening gowns. The ground and walls of Bohemia are adorned with flowers and glowing lanterns hover low over the stage. Jennifer Moeller, the costume designer, said the citizens of Bohemia needed “colorful lose clothing that allows them to move” in order to accommodate dancing and singing.
The male-female dynamic is a central feature of the play, Diamond said, noting that of Shakespeare’s plays, “The Winter’s Tale” has a particularly strong set of female characters. After the king Leontes imprisons his wife Hermione for alleged adultery, her maid leads him to believe that Hermione is dead, only allowing their reunion after 16 years when Leontes shows full repentance.
“Women are called every name in the book,” Diamond said, referring to the patriarchal nature of the play’s society.
Francis Jue, who plays four different characters in the play, said that the play is “not just about theater” — the story teaches audiences that every action has an impact.
“We need to be conscious of our relationships if we want the story of our lives to be better than these people’s,” he said.
The production is part of this year’s Yale Rep WILL POWER! arts education program, which will bring more than 1,500 middle and high school students from New Haven and across the state to see early matinee performances of the show.
“The Winter’s Tale” runs through April 7.
Correction: March 22
An earlier version of this article misspelled the name of the king in “The Winter’s Tale,” Leontes.