RED WING, Minn. -- There is no stage. Sets and costumes are minimal. The small audience will be seated in a circle of chairs, so everyone is “up close and personal” with the actors performing in the center space.
Unusual, and yet … Ten Thousand Things Theater Company’s production of Shakespeare’s classic “The Winter’s Tale” has been described as “extraordinary” and “remarkable.”
Cherry and Spoon’s reviewer said the critically acclaimed Twin Cities company “does Shakespeare like no one else, making it accessible and understandable and relatable.”
“The Winter’s Tale” is coming to the Sheldon Theatre for three public performances, at 7:30 p.m. Nov. 15 and 16, and at 3 p.m. Nov. 17. It will be staged in the third-floor studio.
“It’s a unique kind of theater,” said Marcela Lorca, director of the play and artistic director of the theater company. In the intimate setting, the audience is incorporated into the scene – like guests at the sheep-shearing festival, witnesses at the court hearing.
“The Winter’s Tale” is not as familiar as some of the playwright’s stories, but Lorca considers it “one of Shakespeare’s most stunning plays.”
Sometimes labeled a “problem” play, it is a tragedy during the first act and a comedy in the second part.
Lorca loves it because “it’s like a fairy tale” with love and hardship, drama and humor, magic and miracles. The story deals with “tragedy and rebirth, reconciliation. It talks about the power of forgiveness.”
An epic story, “The Winter’s Tale” is filled with characters – some with privilege, some without – who populate a kingdom governed by laws of justice and love. Jealousy tears friends apart; love brings the principals back together in the end.
Lorca acknowledged that a Shakespeare play can challenge an audience, because it’s not what we are used to listening to.
However, she said, “after 10 minutes of listening you start to understand very vividly. … A lot of it is poetry, so it works in a different way” because of how Shakespeare put words together.
“It creates a kind of alchemy for the ear,” she said.
Each actor plays two or three roles in this production, Lorca said. “We consolidated some, create our own world with fewer characters, more accessible.” The audience, she said, tends to become “more invested in the story.”
The cast reflects a diversity of characters and a high level of skill.
Actor Steve Epp, for example, plays the lead character King Leontes in the first part of the story, but in the second part he plays a peasant girl. Mo Perry starts out as Polina, a powerful woman who speaks truth to power, but later appears as a comedic old shepherd.
“The audience accepts this,” Lorca said. “It’s part of the fun. … They understand that changing a hat, a costume, a voice” means becoming a different character. “Our work is very imaginative. We rely on acting and physical skills.”
Live music is part of the performance. The songs were composed by Twin Cities musician J.D. Steele and will be performed by Peter Vitale.
Ten Thousand Things is known for bringing intelligent, professional theater to people who have little access to the arts. The company gives free performances at homeless shelters, correctional facilities, low-income housing centers, women’s shelters and schools.
“Theater in its origin is meant to bring people together around stories, to learn empathy, what happens when we make mistakes, the great potential we have. … (Theater) is not just for people who can afford tickets. The arts must be accessible to everyone,” Lorca said.
That is part of the reason the plays are done in the round with limited sets, costumes and lighting, she noted. “They are easy to take on the road.”
The company hopes to perform one or two free shows while in Red Wing, she said; arrangements are pending.
Tickets are $26. Seating is limited in the third-floor studio. For reservations, visit the box office, call 651-388-8700 or go online to www.sheldontheatre.org.