A ‘Winter’s Tale’ reimagined

J-Town Playhouse weaves modern-day music into Shakespeare’s classic story.

Cast of A Winter's Tale 370 (photo credit: Courtesy PR)
Cast of A Winter's Tale 370
(photo credit: Courtesy PR)
William Shakespeare’s dramatic comedy The Winter’s Tale has come a long way since it was published in 1623. In director Raphael Poch’s J-Town Playhouse production, showing at the Association of Americans and Canadians in Israel through Wednesday, modern pop folk songs have been woven into the classic tale of love, mistaken jealousy and redemption.
Shakespeare aficionados as well as those less inclined to his work should find something to love in this musical version of the show. Yisrael Cohen, who plays the lead role of King Leontes, the insecure, paranoid tyrant convinced of his wife’s infidelity, says the songs the actors sing, as well as the chorus of strong female voices interspersed throughout the play, help translate the complicated plot.
“People coming who expect a usual Shakespeare show are going to be sadly disappointed,” says Cohen. “[The music] helps the audience realize the emotion of what’s going on.”
While several characters and scenes have been cut for length, the original language and the essence of the story remain intact.
Leontes, the king of Sicilia, believes his pregnant wife Hermione, played by Lulu Dubin, has had an affair with his childhood friend King Polixenes of Bohemia, and nothing, not even an Oracle in a courtroom, will convince him of their innocence. Finally, when Leontes’ son dies after seeing his mother so distraught over his father’s charge, the king has a change of heart. The second half is much more light-hearted, as two young characters fall in love, and Leontes is filled with remorse and joy at reuniting his family.
“Basically, he’s a very emotional character,” says Cohen of Leontes. “He’s always just on the edge of losing control, but he’s still the king and has to still maintain it.”
Alongside Cohen’s overwrought character is Dubin, who seems to play his very opposite.
“[Hermione is] a very reserved and proper woman being accused of something awful, but she keeps her cool and stands up for herself the whole time,” says Dubin, 25.
Cohen, 24, who grew up in Dallas, Texas, and has performed in several other plays, including The Weird Sisters, another modern-interpretation of a Shakespearean production (Macbeth), hopes viewers will understand The Winter’s Tale in a new light after seeing Poch’s version.
“It’s a different take,” he says. “It’s been showing for 500 years. How can you tell it the same way? You’re going to get bored eventually.”
It’s not likely that anyone will find this show boring, with songs by Ingrid Michaelson, Michelle Branch, Sara Barailles, Ryan Star, The Bushwackers, Snow Patrol, and Elizabeth and the Catapult sprinkled throughout. The actors, musically directed by Geula Atlas, harmonize beautifully on deeply emotional songs like “Breathe” by Ryan Starr, and “Go Away My Lover” by Elizabeth and the Catapult.
Poch artfully incorporates the music into the show both to break up the complicated dialogue and to highlight the meaning of each scene.
Dubin agrees that the enjoyable songs elevate the show, making it more entertaining for those who find Shakespeare confusing.
“I think the music brings a really interesting perspective,” she says. “Music is like the relief. It brings it closer to something [the audience] can understand.”
Performances: January 21, 22 and 23 at 8 p.m. Tickets are 70 NIS, or 50 NIS for AACI members and students. To order tickets call (02) 566-1181 or visit :http://www.aaci.org.il