“The Winter’s Tale” engages power and truth through performance

Cherry Han

Occidental’s theater department ran its production of William Shakespeare’s “The Winter’s Tale” in Keck Theater April 14–15 and April 20–22. Wanlass Guest Artist Patricia McGregor directed the production. The play follows the King of Sicilia, Leontes — portrayed by Joey Sortino (sophomore) — after he believes that his wife, Hermione — portrayed by Hilary Kang Oglesby (first year) — is having an affair with the King of Bohemia, Polixenes — portrayed by Yoshi Wainwright (first year). Spanning a time period of 16 years, “The Winter’s Tale” explores truth, power and justice, according to Oglesby.

According to Sortino, typical Shakespeare plays are classified as either comedies, which end in marriage, or tragedies, which end in death. However, “The Winter’s Tale,” which Shakespeare wrote towards the end of his life, is classified as a problem play because it contains elements of both.

“[The Winter’s Tale] has those two halves of that binary collapse in upon each other,” Sortino said. “[Shakespeare] tried to make Leontes swing so far between extremes because it’s really interesting to be able to take that role and have a play that as a whole doesn’t stick to one or the other; it has the two fighting against each other in the same play.”

According to Eliana Sternin (junior) — who portrays Camillo, adviser to the king of Sicilia — McGregor chose to set the play in an ambiguous time period. The actors were able to focus on Shakespeare’s words for character development instead of historical context. Although many of the characters are royal, Occidental’s production incorporated modern music and swing dancing with the Shakespearian dialogue.

“We’ve had to create the politics of the world ourselves, which has been difficult in some ways because there is so much you can do with a blank canvas,” Sternin said.

To create Leontes’s anxiety and paranoia, Sortino said his first line — “to mingle friendships far is mingling blood” — points to the importance of language and repetition of key words in Shakespeare’s character development.

“[Mingle] has that very seedy and brooding sound,” Sortino said. “Part of it is leaning into the lines and all of this poetry that Shakespeare has set up for you to portray.”

According to Sternin, a major theme of the play is speaking truth to power.

“The play doesn’t try and push a specific thing you’re supposed to feel from it,” Sternin said. “I love that we have this framework of a political struggle, but we’re not assigning morality to it in a way.”

According to Oglesby, the theme of maintaining grace in the face of injustice compliments the idea of speaking truth to power. While Paulina — portrayed by Dyoni Isom (junior) — stands up to Leontes to defend Hermione, Hermione maintains optimism when facing her execution, Oglesby said.

“The reason why the show is able to come to a happy ending is because so many people try to speak truth to power, and it goes to show that power can be quite intoxicating and you have to be able to both have grace in the face of injustice, but more importantly speak truth to power when you see injustice happening,” Oglesby said.

Tom Slotten, assistant professor and costume shop manager in the theater department, has spent close to 20 years designing costumes at Occidental. According to Slotten, creating costumes for a production involves a close reading of the script, consulting with the director and conducting research. Slotten estimates at least half of the costumes were built by him for “The Winter’s Tale.” Slotten said Shakespearian plays and musicals have a higher need for costumes than modern plays because modern costumes can be purchased or repurposed. Slotten said that Hermione’s initial gala dress and coat took approximately 18 hours of work spread over two days.

According to Slotten, the costume design captured the distinct contrasts between the major settings of Sicilia and Bohemia.

“In consultation with the director, we decided Sicilia was a very regimented and hierarchical society based on both the actions and the dialogue, so we tried to make it streamlined and a more classical approach,” Slotten said. “Bohemia was a much more freewheeling and festive culture so we wanted to have more rounded shapes, more color and more pattern.”

Sortino said that even though the play is set in an ambiguous era, his costumes lend a feeling of royalty and define the power structures and characters of Sicilia and Bohemia.

“[Slotten] designed this big, entirely golden robe that I wear completely open with a special white button down [that is] pretty much entirely open. This great costume shows this royal figure unfolding and losing his mind in this position where he’s afraid of losing his power,” Sortino said.

The final performance will be May 19 at 8:30 p.m. in Keck Theater during senior week.