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Monday, July 4, 2005


ON STAGE


Fine cast helps put fresh
spin on Shakespearean
tragicomedy

A smaller venue doesn't hurt a bit as the Hawaii Shakespeare Festival returns for 2005 with a well-crafted production of "The Winter's Tale." Brent Yoshikami gives a convincing portrayal of the tragically flawed King Leontes of Sicilia; Seleena Marie Harkness makes a stellar festival debut as Leontes' virtuous wife; and Linda Johnson provides the third side of a strong dramatic triangle playing the indomitable Lady Paulina.

"The Winter's Tale"

presented by the Hawaii Shakespeare Festival at the UH-Manoa Ernst Lab Theatre. Continues at 7:30 p.m. Friday, July 13 and 23;

3:30 p.m. Saturday and July 24.

Tickets are $18 or $42 for the festival (also includes "Romeo and Juliet" and "A Midsummer Night's Dream"). Discounts for seniors, military, students and groups. Call 550-8457 or go to www.hawaiishakes.com.

Paranoia strikes deep in the land of Sicilia after King Leontes convinces himself that his wife is pregnant by his best friend, Polixenes, king of Bohemia. The Queen is charged with adultery and treason, Polixenes barely escapes with his life and several unfortunates lose theirs before Leontes comes to his senses and, to borrow from the title of another of Shakespeare's works, almost all ends well.

Yoshikami again proves himself one of Honolulu's most accomplished young actors as Leontes spirals down into levels of self-delusion and ruthlessness usually associated with Josef Stalin or Kim Il Sung. Yoshikami makes Leontes' paranoia seem the "logical" behavior of a dangerously unsound mind. The sudden evaporation of the king's delusion seems real as well.

Harkness touches the heart with her performance as the wrongfully accused queen. Her final scene should bring at least one tear to every eye in the house. With luck, this will be the first of many times Harkness will be seen on the local stage.

Johnson provides a rough-edged, no-nonsense portrayal of a woman who has reached an age where she no longer suffers fools gladly. Few women of Shakespeare's time would likely have challenged their king, but Johnson's performance makes Paulina's defiance ring true. John Mussack is well cast as Lady Paulina's fuddy-duddy, henpecked husband; his final scene suggests that there is yet courage and honor in Antigonus' soul.

Director R. Kevin Doyle has assembled a fine cast around his leads. Jim Hesse (Old Shepherd) generates most of the classic comic action in Act 2 in glorious Shakespearean style. Hesse has a good sideman in M.J. Gonzalvo as Clown, the old Shepherd's comically dim-witted son. Gonzalvo's work with several other cast members shows his understanding of character over and above broad comedy.

Ryan McKinley and Gilani Moiseff are nicely matched as the young lovers, Florizel and Perdita. They bring the characters' dilemma -- a prince in love with a shepherd's daughter -- to life and suggest the chemistry necessary to make the lovers' story in Act 2 as interesting as the comic action that otherwise dominates it.

With the exception of a few ethnic productions, Honolulu theater groups overlook race and ethnicity in favor of talent when casting shows of all types. Director Doyle's commitment to that local tradition pays off here, although he takes liberties with other aspects of the story.

Lord Camillo, the honorable nobleman who saves Polixenes' life, is now the honorable Lady Camilla. The change of gender is a better choice than having Roxanne Fay play the role as a male impersonator.

The death of another character is staged in such a way that it seems closer to being a noble -- albeit unintended -- act of self-sacrifice, rather than the gods' punishment for an evil act.

Doyle has also elevated Autolycus, a petty thief and con man often cut entirely from modern productions, to the status of a major character. Autolycus' shenanigans not only add to the comic quotient of Doyle's take on Act 2, but also become important in unraveling the problems that plague Sicilia and Bohemia. Jonathan Clarke Sypert draws on his talents as an actor, singer, dancer and acrobat to give a Po'okela Award-worthy performance as Autolycus. Doyle's decision to build up Autolycus pays off handsomely.

Doyle and his tech crew enhance the actors' work with Dan Gelbmann's Renaissance-era set, Alvin Chan's effective use of cut and color to differentiate the people of Sicilia and Bohemia, and Doyle's own work as sound designer in using recorded music to establish the mood or define the locale. (Sicilia is clearly a sophisticated urban society. A few bars of "Foggy Mountain Breakdown" is all it takes to establish Bohemia as "country.")

Combat choreographer Tony Pisculli lends his expertise in the scenes where the shepherds' celebration becomes violent.

With "The Winter's Tale," this year's Hawaii Shakespeare Festival is off to a great start.



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