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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, July 8, 2005

Staging of Bard play, venue don't jibe

By Joseph T. Rozmiarek
Special to The Advertiser


Earle Ernst Lab Theatre, University of Hawai'i-Manoa

7:30 p.m. today; 3:30 p.m. tomorrow, 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, 7:30 p.m. July 23 and 3:30 p.m. July 24

$18 ($16 seniors and military; $10 students)




The Hawaii Shakespeare Festival begins its fourth season with a move from Windward Community College to the University of Hawai'i-Manoa.

Trading the luxurious stadium seating of Paliku Theatre for the confines of the Earle Ernst Lab Theatre space at Kennedy Theatre is a switch from relative grandness to enforced intimacy and should be expected to bring the Bard's work at least physically closer to the masses.

However, director R. Kevin Doyle doesn't take full advantage of the lab's flexible space — perhaps because the change of venue also included an interim plan to house the festival at Mid-Pacific Institute.

The result is a traditional proscenium view of "The Winter's Tale," up close but not necessarily personal.

But it would take some doing to shape the excesses of this play into an intimate encounter.

Written near the end of Shakespeare's career, "The Winter's Tale" is a blend of tragic, comic and pastoral elements that play like a variety show with something for everyone. There's exploding royal jealousy, tragic deaths, an abandoned child raised by shepherds, a statue that comes to life, songs, dances and a bit with a bear.

The first three parts are darkly tragic, with King Leontes schizophrenically morphing from loving family man to tortured avenger. An intermission break takes us to a brightly comic fourth part, with rustic peasants, young love, and — in Doyle's best staging gambit — a sprightly country dance that turns into a marvelous brawl.

After that interlude, the playwright brings the story home in Part Five by reintroducing the principal characters from the first three parts for tender reconciliation and an uplifting, although preposterous, finale.

The glue that holds the everything together is Brent Yoshikami's performance as Leontes. Yoshikami is becoming a staple on Hawai'i stages, appearing in a wide range of roles, but always with a disarming quirkiness that is sometimes mannered, but always a focal point.

He effectively turns that style loose on Leontes' encephalographic emotions. He's hot, he's cold, he's bitter, he's sweet. And in the final scene, when the stone statue of his long-dead wife comes to life, he's profoundly adept at manipulating a spin that sends the audience home feeling good.

This being a Shakespeare play, the best performances are the ones with clear speech and steady characterizations.

Seleena Marie Harkness is good as Hermione, although we only get to see her in short scenes that bookend the play. Jim Hesse has some comic bits as the Old Shepherd, and Linda Johnson helps make the ending work, although her role of Lady Paulina has no character grounding in the contemporary sense.

Jonathan Clarke Sypert is fun to watch as an expansive, physical clown who punches up Part Four, but is otherwise not integral to the story line.

Costumes by Alvin Chan and set by Dan Gelbmann provide a traditional look, while Doyle provides a soundtrack that combines fugue with bluegrass.

"The Winter's Tale" was last done at the University of Hawai'i 25 years ago, so it's worth a look. But, given the Lab Theatre setting, one wishes it could have been staged in the round.