Summer and Shakespeare are two very different things that somehow seem to go perfectly together. Every summer, theater companies all over the country dust off their British accents and take The Bard out for a ride. This year, Annapolis Shakespeare Company is presenting The Winter’s Tale, one of Shakespeare’s lesser-known plays, but one that combines elements from many of his more well-known works. The Winter’s Tale is not quite tragedy, not quite comedy, not quite mistaken identity story, but is easy enough for regular folks to follow the story arc and satisfying enough for more learned Shakespeare scholars to enjoy.
The Annapolis Shakespeare Company production takes place in the gardens behind the Charles Carroll House, which itself is behind St. Mary’s Church in Annapolis. The outdoor setting is quite beautiful, with the simple “stage” area set under an impressive tree with a view of the water behind it. The stage area may be simple, with not much more than a bench as a set, but with the cast’s strong acting and stage presence, as well as effective use of the setting’s natural strengths, including multiple ways for the actors to enter and leave the stage area, you won’t miss a “real” set. The beautiful backdrop of trees in their summer clothing, along with the rich textures and colors of the actors’ costumes, act as a perfect foil to both the play’s drab winter setting and the stage’s bareness, giving a glimpse of the reconciliation that will eventually arrive.
For many people watching Shakespeare, the ability of the actors to impart the story clearly despite the antiquated language is the hallmark of a great production. By that standard, the able cast of the Annapolis Shakespeare Company excels, turning difficult and convoluted language into smooth and understandable prose that sounds beautiful and yet tells the story so that even a child could follow it. For a production in the outdoors, the sound quality is quite good, and you should be able to catch every word. However, you might occasionally wonder who is talking, since the speaker setup means the actor’s voice doesn’t always seem to come from the location where the actor is standing.
The costumes for the show are made of heavy fabrics in a style that would fit perfectly at the upcoming nearby Renaissance Festival. However, I felt for the poor actors who have to wear these heavy costumes during the heat of summer. They must be dripping with sweat after just a few minutes wrapped in heavy damask and silks. I wouldn’t have minded seeing lighter materials more appropriate to the summer heat, even if they did clash with the story’s cold, winter setting.
The director of the show, Sally Boyett, does an excellent job of keeping the story moving along while utilizing the natural environment as an asset. There is even a bit of lively dancing and singing to keep the audience happy. The first half of the show seemed to run smoother, and the actors seemed more sure of themselves and their lines. I sensed a bit of hesitation in the second act, particularly in the ending scenes, as if the actors were waiting for a line or two that didn’t come. The final scene, in particular, fell a bit flat, and could have led to a stronger and more satisfying conclusion.
Overall, the acting in this production was excellent. In this story, the women are given strong roles and Laura Rocklyn as Hermione, the Queen of Sicilia, Charlotte Harvey as Paulina, Hermione’s Lady in Waiting, and Katherine Burns as Perdita, the long-lost daughter of King Leontes and Queen Hermione, excel at their roles, bringing a strength and dignity to the characters that may not always be apparent in other productions. The men, led by Matthew Lynch as Polixenes, the King of Bohemia and Dexter Hamlett as Leontes, the King of Sicilia are strong actors who play multiple roles with ease.
A few final things to know about this production: You can reserve a VIP chair or bring your own chair/blanket to sit on. The VIP chairs are set up close to the stage, which is great, but they are regular folding chairs, so bringing your own chair might be more comfortable. Outside food and drink are not allowed on the grounds of the Charles Carroll House, which is unfortunate since bringing a picnic is one of the joys of seeing an outdoor theater production. The Annapolis Shakespeare Company is trying to provide an option of buying a picnic meal which can be picked up before the show and consumed on the grounds; however, the buying process is currently extremely cumbersome and probably not practical for most people. Luckily, the “theater” is walking distance to downtown Annapolis so it is easy to eat at a nearby restaurant before the show and even stop in for ice cream after it ends, making for the perfect night out.
Finally, bring bug spray. You can’t experience the joys of an outdoor Shakespeare production without braving a few mosquito bites.
Running Time: Two hours and 30 minutes, with one 30-minute intermission.
The Winter’s Tale, presented by Annapolis Shakespeare Company, plays through July 28, 2019, in the gardens of the Charles Carroll House, 107 Duke of Gloucester Street, Annapolis, MD 21401. For tickets, call the box office at 410-415-3513 or go online.
Craig Allen, Camillo; Katherine Burns, Emilia/Perdita; Dexter Hamlett, Autolycus/Leontes; Charlotte Harvey, Paulina/Ensemble; Amber James, Mamillius/Mopsa/Ensemble; Matthew Dalton Lynch, Polixenes; Matthew Provenza, Gaoler/Florizel; John Pruessner, Antigonus/Shepherd/Ensemble; Laura Rocklyn, Hermione/Clown; Elle Marie Sullivan, Dorcas.