Quantum Theatre’s production of “The Winter’s Tale” was surprisingly sumptuous, deftly moving beyond the gritty city adventures usually conjured up by artistic director Karla Boos. That doesn’t mean, though, that it was any less of an artistic escapade. This time the setting was decidedly baroque, virtually every aspect dripping with the overly refined mannerisms and overtly grand style of the 17th century, so fitting as the local company commences its 25th anniversary.
Boos took her followers Downtown to the top of the Union Trust building built by Henry Clay Frick, yes, the one with the fanciful roof on Grant Street. It’s well worth the price of the ticket, to look up at the atrium, then take one of those beautiful brass elevators to the top and get a closer look. But there’s more — a lovely little theater that Frick surprisingly included in the plans. (Check the history while you’re at it.)
The cast itself was baroque as well, 25 in all, including four dancers from Attack Theatre and an expanded accompaniment from another terrific local group, Chatham Baroque, also celebrating its 25th anniversary, and led expertly by co-creator Andres Cladera.
All the creative accoutrements contributed to the ornate feeling overall: Susan Tsu’s magnificent costumes and wigs (loved Paulina’s mini dress), C. Todd Brown’s complex lighting scheme (so on point), Tony Ferrieri’s expert extension of the original stage in front to include four small stages and a ramp enclosing the orchestra, bringing the action directly into the audience.
You could see it virtually from the start when the chorus stuck their heads through slits in the curtains, whereupon projection designer Joe Seamans started the first of his stunning visuals, an ivy-like swirl around the various singing heads. So how to fill this late, often dark, Shakespearean extravaganza, ripe with jealousy between two childhood friends, banishment and sorrow, when there already was so much?
Boos wisely directed with a feather-light touch, utilizing the various stages areas with a clarity and understanding of the various themes and plots. Claderas and members of Chatham Baroque borrowed only from the best of the Baroque — Vivaldi, Handel, Purcell. The recitatives, which conveyed the Shakespearean dialogue, were constructed by not only the musicians, but by Boos herself.
And, while I’m not a Shakespearean expert, it appeared that some of the arias were chosen because they fit into this operatic puzzle (Handel’s Happy We!), while others were given a twist — Hot, too hot! (Fatto inferno è il mil petto) and a title that seems more a part of an Apollo mission, The Oracle Has Landed (O Haupt poll Blut und Wunden).
Those remarkably witty veins run throughout the evening and would often sneak up and tap you on the ear. They sounded like newfound (and brilliant) vestiges of Baroque, and probably something to be savored by a second (or third) visit to the Union Trust building.
The real contemporary accent came from Attack Theatre’s dance direction, sometimes playing various characters, other times providing an emotional element. The four company members were clad in unisex flesh-colored unitards with hand painted designs and wonderfully enhanced, remarkably without interfering in, the action. Two more highlights revolved around the appearance of the Bear and the transformation of Hermione from statue to human again. Suffice it to say that they were artfully accomplished with the use of movable screens and precise projections.
And let’s not forget the vocal cast that carried the visual/audio burden, particularly countertenor Andrey Nemzer (Autolycus), whose trills and flourishes were no less than thrilling, David Newman’s (Leontes) woeful journey of redemption and Dan Kempson’s robust love interest, Florizel.
So much to see and so little time to take in all of it. A friend of mine, who read the play in preparation, missed a few scenes that she thought should be included. I briefly thought about the length (nearly three hours) twice during the evening. But the rewards were so rich that I immediately turned my attention back to a memorable production that will definitely be one of the top theatrical events of the year.