Not-so-great divide

Problematic Shakespeare production blends tragedy, comedy, French and English


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This production of The Winter’s Tale, often deemed one of William Shakespeare’s “problem plays,” allows for the virtual pleasure of a visit to the Trappist Monastery Provincial Heritage Park to enjoy the work of 10 different Winnipeg actors.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 30/07/2021 (422 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

This production of The Winter’s Tale, often deemed one of William Shakespeare’s “problem plays,” allows for the virtual pleasure of a visit to the Trappist Monastery Provincial Heritage Park to enjoy the work of 10 different Winnipeg actors.

Even so, the filmed production, true to its categorization, is… problematic.

A reason for its status is, in most basic terms, the play begins as a tragedy and ends as a comedy. The tragedy comes courtesy of King Leontes of Sicily (Gabriel Daniels), who asks his faithful wife Hermione (Ava Darrach-Gagnon) to help convince his good friend Polixenes, King of Bohemia (Simon Miron), to stay on an extended visit. Hermione succeeds, but that only spurs Leontes to suspect the pregnant Hermione has been unfaithful to him with Polixenes.

Gabriel Daniels is the jealous King Leontes in The Winter’s Tale. The bilingual show is produced by Shakespeare in the Ruins and Théâtre Cercle Molière. (Shakespeare in the Ruins / Théâtre Cercle Molière)


Leontes goes off the deep end in a big way, ordering the murder of Polixenes, the arrest of his wife and the abandonment in the wild of the infant she bears. Polixenes escapes to his home country with his would-be murderer Camilla (Jane Testar). But in the ensuing kerfuffle, Leontes’ only son, Mamillius (Kristian Cahatol), dies of sheer stress. In due course, Hermione’s faithful maid Paulina (Andrea del Campo) breaks the news that Hermione has also died, of grief, in the wake of an Oracle’s declaration that Hermione was innocent.

Meanwhile, Paulina’s husband, Lord Antigonus (Tom Keenan) follows orders and abandons the baby on the coast of Bohemia. When Antigonus is chased off by a bear, baby Perdita is rescued by a shepherd (also played by Tom Keenan) and his goofy son (Tobias Hughes).

After 16 years pass, Perdita grows to be a beautiful young woman (Kristian Cahatol again) who entrances Polixene’s son Florizel (Omar Samuels). Ironically, Polixenes takes issue with their engagement because Perdita is not of royal blood. A comic reckoning is destined in the court of the remorseful King Leontes.


Bird in a gilded cage: Gabriel Daniels (left) is King Leontes, putting his wife Hermione (Ava Darrach-Gagnon) on trial in The Winter’s Tale. (Shakespeare in the Ruins /Théâtre Cercle Molière)

● ● ●

One can forgive the most salient issue, that The Winter’s Tale takes place in the sunny, green, idyllic surroundings of the Trappist Monastery in St. Norbert. (If you say it’s winter and we have to take it on faith, that’s fine. It’s not as if we don’t get enough winter in Winnipeg.)

The play is bilingual, performed in both English (for Sicilia) and French (for Bohemia), one of the reasons Shakespeare in the Ruins partnered with St. Boniface’s Théâtre Cercle Molière for the production.

In a way, the streaming version available to ticket holders is the ideal presentation, because it comes with three options: with English and French subtitles; with English audio description; and with French audio description.

The version provided for review was an early screener with no subtitles, presented the way it was intended for audiences attending the show in its usual promenade-style presentation.

Gabriel Daniels (left) is King Leontes with his wife Hermione (Ava Darrach-Gagnon) and best friend Polixenes (Simon Miron). (Shakespeare in the Ruins / Théâtre Cercle Molière)

The companies proceeded under the assumption that audience members with only one language would manage to interpret the action in much the same way audiences manage to interpret Shakespearean English, with body language, inflection and inference guiding us through the more dense passages.

That may be true in short passages, but it isn’t really the case for the long haul. For a high school-French person like myself, the later acts set in Bohemia are somewhat incomprehensible. The subtitle option should be considered essential if your French is lacking.

Still, for SiR subscribers, the play gives us the next best thing to enjoying an evening out in the park. As co-directed by Michelle Boulet and Sarah Constible, this filmed version is virtually satisfactory. The company allows some enjoyment with a cabal of its lively repertory cast (Hughes, del Campo and Testar) and some welcome newcomers, especially Gabriel Daniels, who takes on what must surely be one of the most challenging of characters in Shakespearean canon with all due grace and gravitas.

Nevertheless, the linguistic divide only seems to exacerbate the tragedy-comedy divide that plagues the play overall.

Talk about your two solitudes.

Perdita (Kristian Cahatol) is the grown-up daughter of Leontes and Hermione. (Shakespeare in the Ruins / Théâtre Cercle Molière)

Twitter: @FreepKing

Randall King

Randall King

In a way, Randall King was born into the entertainment beat.

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