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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Talking Shakespeare with the director of ‘The Winter’s Tale’

Published: November 12, 2010
Section: Arts, Etc.

GRAPHIC BY ­Ariel Wittenberg/The Hoot

Complex villains, tormented heroes and heroines, conspiracies, betrayals—and let’s not forget that famous scene in which a man gets eaten by a bear—William Shakespeare’s problem play “The Winter’s Tale” seems to have everything. The basic plot is that when King Leontes suspects that his wife Hermione is having an affair with his best friend, the king spirals out of control, along with events. Hold Thy Peace has tackled this play in a production that is in the style of a fairy tale.

Director Stephanie Karol ’12 took the time to chat with The Brandeis Hoot about the challenges and fun of putting on a play by that famous bard.

The Brandeis Hoot: What’s the challenge of putting on a play by Shakespeare?

Stephanie Karol: A lot of people get turned off from auditioning because they think Shakespeare is too hard. “I don’t understand him,” but it doesn’t take much to understand … Sometimes it is difficult because of the grammar and the way the words fall on the page [and] some words are archaic and we needed to look them up … but the great thing about performing Shakespeare is that the audience can pick up on a meaning by the way an actor says [the lines]. It’s easier for an audience to get it than a person reading it.

BH: Why did you choose to direct “The Winter’s Tale?”

SK: There are character types in Shakespeare that appeal to me. [In the play] mad King Leontes becomes a broken person and it’s his own fault … [While] King Lear’s madness is what other people inflict on him, Leonte’s is self-inflicted … I like broken characters, interesting villains. I tried to give Leontes a back story, why he is in so much pain and says “The World and all that is in it is nothing.” [His wife] Hermione, daughter of the Emperor of Russia is his through a political marriage. He cares for her more than she does for him and so he’s been trying for years to get her to love him, but he just doesn’t have the depth of understanding. He tries to elicit an emotional response and gets nothing.

“The Winter’s Tale” is also full to bursting with strong women. Hermione, though I’ve seen her played as whiny, the things she says when on trial [for adultery] shows that she has strength, is composed and graceful … in defending herself so eloquently.

BH: The play features a shift in tone between the first three acts and the final acts, changing from a drama to a comedy; how did you cope with this shift?

SK: Shakespeare has given us a mechanism to do that. In Act III, scene II, Antigonus is chased off stage and eaten by a bear. [His wife] Paulina’s discovery of his death makes the transition … It shows how Paulina is moving on or not moving on and has to come to the conclusion that he has died.

BH: How did you keep the bear scene from being ridiculous?

SK: We cast a light that looks like a bear … during a storm in-between flashes of lightning. When I first thought about the scene, I thought “I can’t afford a bear costume and it would look ridiculous.” … The light shows that there is something big and scary out there, it’s like a horror movie or thriller where you can’t see everything and the fear you feel is fear of the unknown.

BH: Why did you decide to direct “The Winter’s Tale” in the style of a fairy tale?

SK: Doing my [version] as a fairy tale gave me a way to deal with the crazy things that happen in the play … The character of Florizel came across as very Disney. We played him as very ivory tower, he doesn’t understand how people work. Perdita, though, is kind of the anti-Disney princess, but she wants to pursue the things that Disney princesses want to pursue. Paulina is a fairy godmother-like figure, she’d do anything to protect the baby. [The very concept of] a shepherd finding a baby is a very fairy tale thing to have happen. [One of the play’s themes] of divine retribution—the sins of the father will torment the child—only happens in a fairy tale world.

Hold Thy Peace’s production of “The Winter’s Tale” takes place from Nov. 12 through 13 at 8 p.m. and Nov. 14 at 2 p.m.