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A Tale of Humanity From a Master Playwright

Two actors rehearse A Winter's Tale

One of Shakespeare’s Final Works to be Presented by U-Idaho Theatre

After taking us through the mystical world of A Midsummer Night’s Dream and the tragic young love between Romeo and Juliet, William Shakespeare turned his attention to the bigger picture: life.

Setting aside themes of passion, lust and betrayal, Shakespeare turned to broader concepts of forgiveness and resurrection. It was at the height of his career he penned The Winter’s Tale, the second mainstage production to be presented by the University of Idaho Department of Theatre Arts.

In terms of language and syntax, it is one of the most refined of Shakespeare’s scripts, says Chris DuVal, assistant professor and director of the play.

“The play was written by a very mature playwright,” he says.

The Winter’s Tale tells the story of Leontes, King of Sicilia, a man whose unbridled jealousy threatens to destroy his family. After sending his wife to prison on charges of adultery, he orders his newborn daughter abandoned. Thanks to the kind hand of a shepherd, the young royal Perdita survives. An unforeseen marriage will reveal Perdita’s heritage and reunite a broken family after 16 years apart.

DuVal’s rendition is set in the 1950s and ‘60s, a time period DuVal said most adequately provided a modern backdrop for the themes within the play.

“I really had no interest in doing a museum-like, old-time version of the play,” he says. “We want the play to be as accessible (to the audience) as any other play written even yesterday.”

Combine the power struggle between women and men with the growing paranoia during the Cold War, and DuVal says the time frame puts just the right amount of distance between the play and its audience. The positive outlook of the ‘60s parallels the play’s ending and the idea of returning to nature, peace and harmony, he says.

“The play ends happily, but not perfectly,” DuVal says. “It’s complicated — like life.”

Such mature themes also give actors a chance to tap into characters with whom they may not be familiar.

“The actors need to be knowledgeable of or have an imaginary view of what it’s like to have a small child,” DuVal says. “That shows a lot of maturity and growth in their work and a great commitment to authenticating the story.”

Millie Rose Schacher, who plays the outcast wife “Hermione,” played her first Shakespeare role this summer as “Ariel” in The Tempest, presented by local theatre company Moscow Art Theatre (Too). While “Ariel’s” presence centered around big expression and laughter, she says playing “Hermione” will test a deeper part of her psyche, one that is full of grace and joy but also vulnerable.

“Every rehearsal (DuVal) stresses we remember to bring our own humanity into the show,” she says. “He wants the play to have an outright muscularity. This play is full of riddles and unanswered questions, moral contradictions and guilty pleasures. The play should leave audience members in a contemplative state ...”

“Hermione” is queen of a powerful country, pregnant and already mother to an 8-year-old boy, all struggles Schacher says are foreign to her.

“Hermione is one of the most difficult roles I’ve ever had, but I’m continually growing and gaining insight on my own humanity,” she says.

Schacher adds there are many injustices served to characters in the play, but audience members will be “astonished at the gravity and grace of the forgiveness given.”

The mature writing style and evolved language are what prompted DuVal to choose one of Shakespeare’s later works.

"We need to be picking plays that are challenging for our students,” he says. “It forces our students to stretch.”

DuVal is an assistant professor at the University of Idaho, teaching stage combat, movement, voice and acting Shakespeare.He has worked as an Actor’s Equity Association actor, fight director and guest instructor throughout the country has been seen the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, Dallas Theatre Center, South Coast Repertory and Sacramento Theatre Company, among others.

The Winter’s Tale shows 7:30 p.m. Nov. 3-5, 10-12 and 2 p.m. Nov. 6,13 in the U-Idaho Hartung Theater. Family days will also be held during Sunday performances. Shows will include a 20-minute preshow to introduce the characters, plot and theme of the play. Due to the complexity of the language, the performance is best suited for playgoers ages 8 and older who have had an introduction to the play.

Tickets are free to U-Idaho students and $8 for U-Idaho faculty and staff. General admission is $10. Tickets can be purchased at the U-Idaho Ticket Office in the Kibbie Dome or by calling (208) 885-7212. Tickets are also available at the Hartung Box Office the night of the performance.