.Theater Review: Santa Cruz Shakespeare’s ‘Winter’s Tale’

Continuing its voyage of playful experimentation, Santa Cruz Shakespeare has launched its final repertory offering for 2019, The Winter’s Tale. One of the playwright’s final works, The Winter’s Tale fascinates in its multi-dimensionality.

Opening as a penetrating study of tragic jealousy, the play turns on its axis halfway through and becomes a robust pastoral comedy. And the fairy-tale ending is one of the rarest of closures in all of Shakespeare.

In the hands of director Raelle Myrick-Hodges and costume designer Ulises Alcal, Winter’s Tale pushes postmodernism to the breaking point. Time periods, vocal rhythms and fashions slip in and out of clarity—costumes begin in a Hollywoodish Rita Hayworth heyday, then bounce into ’60s dance parties and scatter toward hip-hop. With the collaged visuals come diverse accents—only some of which skillfully serve the plot.

The play’s driving theme echoes Othello. King Leontes of Sicily (Ian Merrill Peakes) and his old childhood friend King Polixenes of Bohemia (Lindsay Smiling) have been enjoying a long overdue visit together in Leontes’ court. As the play opens, Polixenes is bidding his friend farewell, having stayed nine months away from his own court in Bohemia. Leontes begs him to stay longer, to no avail. But when Leontes’ wife Hermione (Karen Peakes) asks, Polixenes relents. And herein lies the rub. Leontes suddenly finds himself consumed with jealousy and suspects that his pregnant wife Hermione might just be carrying the child of Polixenes, “he that wears her like a medal hanging about his neck.” Jealousy, spewed forth in Peakes’ spellbinding asides to the audience, turns to obsession, and soon Hermione is banished, Polixenes flees for his life, and Hermione’s newborn baby daughter is abandoned to the fates.

In a dramatic time shift used nowhere else in Shakespeare, 16 years has gone by when the second half of the play begins. (Mega-kudos to Patty Gallagher, whose panache gives clarity throughout.) We’re now in the company of shepherds in Bohemia, where a 16-year-old beauty is about to be engaged to the king’s son. You can see where this is going. In Bohemia, things are as jolly as Sicily has been tragic. And played in repertory, the cast has some real fun with their double roles, moving from the noble court to the countryside with relish.

The jarring eruption of a DJ dance party, however, does little to advance any understanding of the comedic plot twist, no matter how much light entertainment there is in the original text. Reviving audience focus with tall tales and song is the insanely talented Allen Gilmore as the trickster pickpocket Autolycas. His rollicking scenes crafted the dissonant shadings Shakespeare suggests. Gilmore’s Mr. Bennett also created the calm center of Pride and Prejudice, and it was a pleasure to watch him let loose and captivate the entire opening night house of Winter’s Tale. His punning repartee with the Shepherd (Tommy A. Gomez) and his son Clown (a winning Adrian Zamora) helped move the play toward its resolution.

Kudos to scenic designer Dipu Gupta, whose large circular opening on the back wall allowed glimpses of an enormous, scenic moon, whose movements and color changes helped to tell us the passing of day to night, and winter to summer. The Winter’s Tale is given added charm by the presence of a trio of actors all named Peakes, who are in fact husband, wife and son, Owen—playing husband Leontes, wife Hermione, and their son Mamillius. Ian Merrill Peakes, who steals this season’s Pride and Prejudice, is stylish, resourceful and fierce as Leontes’ inferno of paranoid jealousy. Directorial re-tuning might help infuse the ending with the rich, ironic power the play’s text demands. Contemporary costuming may update the look of a classic play, but it can’t help us understand the text, or heart of the play if the actors don’t believe (or comprehend) what they’re saying.

Still, The Winter’s Tale brims with eloquence, high tragedy and easy comedy—which is a lot for any night’s entertainment under moonlight. You owe it to yourself to take in this rare chance to see one of the Bard’s most unusual and controversial works.

‘The Winter’s Tale’ runs through Sept. 1 at the Grove in Delaveaga Park, 501 Upper Park Rd., Santa Cruz. santacruzshakespeare.org.


  1. So let’s talk about the elephant in the room. Black American directors are hardly ever associated with Shakespeare, and Black female directors taking on Shakespeare are even more rare. With that said, the existence of an adequate platform to discuss director Raelle Myrick-Hodges’ choices in The Winter’s Tale is essential. At opening night, I was blown away by the nuanced ways in which she skillfully navigated a deeply intentional subtext of race and power in her strategic placement of characters and blocking. The weight of representation was palpable, the comparisons to an American legacy of racism which haunts us today as a national emergency, unmistakable . It would be a huge loss to not be able to see, understand or acknowledge her work, and demonstrates how one’s position in society dictates what is visible to one’s conscience. To start, we begin the play in the 1940’s because it represents a time of illusory, whitewashed glamour that fails to cover the horrors of lynching and Jim Crow racism. We can not ignore the sinister pull of Hermione’s(Karen Peakes) white womanhood as she insists that a Black King Polixenes (Lindsay Smiling) stay as her “guest or prisoner”. The imminent danger to Polixenes fills the stage as we watch King Leontes (Ian Merrill Peakes) become psychotically consumed by jealousy and rage at the thought of Polixenes having touched his queen. In this moment, Myrick-Hodges draws clear references to Emmett Till, and the historically violent obsession with perceived transgressions against white womanhood by Black men, itself a byproduct of the legacy of slavery and the making of American capitalism.
    Leontes can not be convinced otherwise, and goes on to wreak havoc and ruin in the lives of his most beloved relationships. His tyrannical ideology, his privilege and entitlement being centered at all costs, smacks so clearly of our current president that it’s almost funny, until one considers the real atrocities being visited on mothers and children at this very moment. Leonte’s disgust at the thought of Polixenes being the father of the baby in Hermione’s womb, oozes with eugenic rage. At the same time, the refusal of Lady Paulina(Chavez Ravine) to come to Hermione when called and her silent, yet powerful, confrontational stance towards Leontes are an allegory for the historical resistance of Black women as the collective conscience of America, even while being reviled and shunned.
    In short, the directorial choices being made by Myrick-Hodges are both nuanced and pointed as they invite us to unpack a tangled web of jealousy, patriarchal ownership and vengeance for perceived adultery, as it relates to race. The fact that none of these choices have been touched upon by any reviewer of this production of the Winter’s Tale is an example of how the realities of Black American lives are still largely misunderstood and unacknowledged. Even after the body of works by greats like James Baldwin, Zora Neale Hurston, Richard Wright, Langston Hughes, and August Wilson have screamed the realities of our lives from the rooftops, there is still much work to do. If we are asking Black female directors like Raelle Myrick-Hodges to produce plays by William Shakespeare, we owe it to the work to insure their choices are centered, discussed with critical thought, intersectional analysis, and their intentions made perfectly clear to reviewers and theater patrons alike. Representation is important, and it’s easy to feel good about providing it. Looking at our own privilege, entitlement and patriarchy is more difficult to do, but it’s the only way that we can move forward. I commend Myrick-Hodges for pushing us towards waking up.


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