The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 15.0274 Monday, 2 February 2004
Date: Saturday, 31 Jan 2004 19:27:19 -0800
Subject: Adaptation of Winter's Tale at the Folger
Makeover of Bard's'Tale'
By T. L. Ponick
Washington Times, Jan. 31, 2004
Question: What do you get when you take a really weird old play and
spruce it up? Answer: A really weird new play. That's essentially what
we have with "Melissa Arctic," a brand-new drama being given its
world-premiere performances at the Folger Shakespeare Theatre through
Feb. 29. Based on "The Winter's Tale," William Shakespeare's late
problem-romance, Craig Wright's update transports the Bard's strangely
disjointed vision to contemporary, snowbound Pine City, Minn.
Shakespeare's original introduces us to the mythical Sicilian King
Leontes who, like the insanely jealous Othello, flips out when he
imagines that his wife, Queen Hermione, has been getting a little
something on the side, courtesy of their old pal King Polixenes of
Bohemia. In short order, the queen dies from a broken heart, and their
infant daughter is carried into exile by a courtier who is then
conveniently chased off by a bear, leaving no clue as to where the
little girl has gone.
After a pastoral interlude in which the now-grown daughter (Perdita)
falls in love with the son of Polixenes (Florizel), everyone has a
reunion of sorts. Queen Hermione even returns, emerging somehow from a
statue. Plotwise, this was not one of Shakespeare's award-winning efforts.
Some critics have accused "The Winter's Tale" of being two plays - a
tragedy and a comedy - smashed into one. Playwright Wright has chosen to
run with this dramatic paradox, and "Melissa Arctic" comes as close as
anything can to making the whole concept seem coherent.
"Melissa" still could use some tweaking, particularly during the awkward
opening scene of Act I. The production's added music is largely
forgettable, too. Yet Mr. Wright has managed against all odds to
transform Shakespeare's creaky characters into easily recognizable and
largely sympathetic modern types. If the ultimate denouement of the play
seems at times a little facile, well, blame it on Shakespeare's
The cast of this production, nicely paced and directed by Aaron Posner,
invests considerable emotional capital into each character. As uneasy
friends Leonard (Leontes) and Paul (Polixenes), Ian Merrill Peakes and
Kelly AuCoin create over-the-top dramatic tension early on that serves
as the drama's mainspring. Meanwhile, as their inadvertently mutual love
interest, Mina (Hermione), Holly Twyford is near-perfect in her brief,
intense role as a simple, attractive country girl who finds herself in
the middle of a maelstrom.
Taking over in the second act as young lovers Melissa (Perdita) and
Ferris (Florizel), Miriam Liora Ganz and Mark Sullivan capture the
perfect amount of romantic chemistry and youthful naivete. They are at
once likable and believable, instantly transforming the somber and
violent first act into something more akin to a bittersweet romantic comedy.
. . .
[Editor's Note: For the Washington Post's review of "Melissa Arctic" see
This weekend I saw the Shakespeare Theatre's 1 Henry 4 and was quite
taken by it. On the whole, the production is much darker than most 1H4's
I've seen, particularly Ted van Griethuysen's Falstaff and Ed Gero's
Worcester. For me this is the third winner of this season for the
Shakespeare Theatre after a number of year's in which I had serious
artistic differences with many of the company's Shakespeare productions.
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