Theater department raises the curtain for ‘The Winter’s Tale’

Asia Rapai and Asia Rapai

Even Shakespeare wrote coming of age stories that college students can relate to.

That’s the interpretation by the directors of William Shakespeare’s “The Winter’s Tale,” being performed this weekend at the University.

The Theatre and Film Department will perform the play at the Joe E. Brown Theatre in University Hall. The play, which is one of Shakespeare’s last, is directed by doctoral graduate students Darin Kerr and Heidi Nees.

Nees said the setting of the play is grounded in 1914 Great Britain where a king’s jealousy poisons the people around him until time passes and life lessons are learned.

Three major characters — King Leontes of Sicilia, his queen Hermione and King Polixenes of Bohemia — are played by undergraduate students, while graduate students and faculty members surround them as the court that offers wisdom and advice.

When Leontes becomes consumed by the idea that Hermione could be pregnant with Polixenes’ child, he makes impulsive decisions that harm his family.

After tragedy takes over, the play jumps ahead 16 years with a more comedic feel as the characters realize their transformations through time and the lessons they learned.

When casting the play early this fall, the directors said they had a mix of age groups to work with including undergraduate students, graduate students, faculty members and an 8-year-old. Given this range, the directors said they decided to use it as a tool for telling a different version of the story.

“It was really out of the audition process that we came to emphasize the sort of generational aspects of the piece and the relationship of youth to age and everything in between,” Kerr said.

Senior Leigh Yenrick, who plays Hermione, said this Shakespeare play is more challenging to understand than his well-known plays. When she saw how the directors interpreted the story, she grew excited about her role.

“This is a little bit different take than I would’ve imagined,” she said. “It makes the story more interesting. It heightens the stakes a little bit, especially for my character. It makes her words that much more powerful.”

Senior doctoral graduate student Matthew Gretzinger, 39, is involved with the production process by acting and serving as dramaturg. As dramaturg, Gretzinger researched the play and historical information as well as taught the actors about the verse and meaning of Shakespeare’s language. Gretzinger said he has studied Shakespeare in a variety of ways for about 20 years.

With the research he has done, he said he is impressed by the directors’ interpretation of the story and that their casting choices help to emphasize the meaning.

“The contrast of youth and age gives it more dimension and makes it seem more real,” Gretzinger said.

Rehearsals began in early October, and stage manager Devon King, a sophomore, said they have come a long way since then.

“Everything has come together great. It’s been an amazing process,” she said. “It’s really nice how everybody has come together to make this production.”

King said the directors have added an interesting preshow that will be performed while people are being seated right before the play. It’s a dream sequence that ties in at the very end of “The Winter’s Tale.”

“It’s really cool. If you want to see that, get there early,” King said.

Although she added that you will not miss anything that is vital to the play if you miss the preshow.

King said it also might be worth coming to the production to see a particular scene with a bear attack.

“There’s thunder and lightning and somebody gets eaten by a bear. It’s a crazy scene,” she said.

What: “The Winter’s Tale” by William Shakespeare, performed by the Theatre and Film Department

Where: Joe E. Brown Theatre, University Hall

When: Dec. 3 and 4 at 8 p.m., Dec. 4 and 5 at 2 p.m.

Tickets are $9 for students and seniors (55 and over) and $12 for adults. Tickets can be purchased by calling the Box Office at 419-372-2719 or at the Box Office on the day of the performance with an additional charge of $3.