Shakespeare has ditched the ruffles for fishnets and studs. This is the reality the cast and crew of “A Winter’s Tale” — the experimental, punk-rock spin on a complex five-act Shakespeare play — will soon bring to the stage of the Yale Repertory Theatre.
“This is Shakespeare like you’ve never seen it before,” cast member Sarah Matthes ’13 said.
Revamped and recast in a modern light, the Yale University Dramatic Association’s production of “A Winter’s Tale,” a unique play within Shakespeare’s canon, will feature the original music of Zachary Fuhrer ’11 (a staff writer for the News), bold body paint and dancing combat-booted players at the Rep next week. Directed by Cooper Lewis ’11, an English major, drama enthusiast and fraternity brother, the show will exude the idiosyncrasies of its director, who adapted Shakespeare’s work into what the cast and crew are calling a “post-punk revival.”
‘TWO VERY DIFFERENT KINDS OF SHAKESPEARE’
The original “A Winter’s Tale” is a complex play partitioned by space and time, a story about the despotic King of Sicilia, Leontes, who wreaks havoc upon his family. After a large chronological jump into the future, the king’s daughter directs her affections to a Bohemian prince, Florizel. Categorized as both a comedy and a romance, the play hinges upon duality: It transitions from an intense psychological drama to a comedic, happy ending.
In the middle of the play, Lewis explained, Time personified enters and Shakespeare “exercises immense power as the author,” leading to an ending that “could only be described as bizarre.”
Lewis’ take on the production emphasizes the two-part story which, he said, allows viewers to experience the tragedy of the first half and the pastoral, strange quality of the second.
“ ‘A Winter’s Tale’ features fairy-tale structure, beautiful language, exquisite costumes, and offers two very different kinds of Shakespeare all in one night,” he said.
Adding dance and music to the typically spoken-word performance, Lewis considers his adaptation to be gospel meets post-punk. The movements choreographed by Nick Murphy ’12 are quick and exaggerated, layered atop Fuhrer’s mysterious and cacophonous compositions, especially the pounding percussion solos played by Hazel Scher ’11.
Dramat Assistant Production Officer and “A Winter’s Tale” Stage Manager Rachel London ’12 said she was surprised at how Lewis’ artistic incorporations became integral features of the presentation.
“The dancing works so smoothly into the story,” she said.
THREE MONTHS IN THE MAKING
The idea for this creative synthesis grew out of an experience in the classroom. After reading “A Winter’s Tale” in Harold Bloom’s “Shakespeare: Tragedies and Romances” course, Lewis said he was inspired to reinterpret the play in a nonacademic setting. Lewis immediately teamed up with Daniel Suarez ’11, the show’s artistic consultant, to conceive what Suarez called a fresh, romantic and expressionistic aesthetic for the play. The two shared what they consider a visceral reaction to the text — envisioning the characters as punks and using dance as an expression of passing time.
“This show has gone up in a month of real time, but three months in everyone’s brains,” London said, reflecting on how long the ideas had been percolating.
A cast for the performance was assembled soon after the semester began. Lewis made sure actors were thinking critically before taking the script to the stage, organizing roundtable discussions of the play and encouraging fine-tuned interpretation.
“It’s important for actors to understand what they’re reading, what they’re feeling,” Lewis said. “This is a notoriously difficult show to put on.”
LEWIS: HIS PLAYERS AND VISION
Members of the cast interviewed said Cooper’s management of the story’s intricacy and his sensibilities as a director have been highlights of the last few weeks. Said Jacob Liberman ’10, who plays the role of King Leontes: “[Lewis] has an impeccable ear for Shakespeare and a really specific vision for a new world coming organically from the text.”
For some of the freshmen cast in the show, “A Winter’s Tale” has also functioned as an introduction to the Yale theater scene, Alexander Kramer ’13 said.
“The cast, as well as the show, may defy people’s expectations; Cooper has a wild imagination,” Kramer said. “It’s amazing to be a part of the creative process while he still maintains the integrity of Shakespeare.”
While formalists may question Lewis’ concept, he said his dedication to preserving Shakespeare’s intentions underlines his aim to revitalize an old masterpiece.
“If I’m doing my job, you won’t be lost in the audience,” Lewis said. “It’ll be a collaborative experience, where you’ll feel immersed in the cross-sections between committed performances, melodic music, percussive beats and expressionistic choreography.”
Artistic director Suarez said he also thinks the fusion will strike audiences as transcendent: “We’re using the inherent anachronism in the play to create a setting beyond history and context. As Shakespeare says in the play, ‘Dreams are toys’ — you can do whatever you want.”
The Dramat’s “A Winter’s Tale” premieres Thursday, Oct. 1, and will run until Oct. 3 at the Yale Rep. Tickets are available at the Dramat’s online box office.