The Winter’s Tale to Indulge Yen for Drama

Abby Hawkins, Arts Editor

After seven positions as director or music director over his four years of theater at Oberlin, College senior Carter Sligh will present The Winter’s Tale in Little Theater as his final directorial project this weekend. Perhaps the original dramedy, this Shakespearean tale of jealousy, love and the paranoia spawned by their combination will feature College senior Phil Wong as Leontes, the jealous king who suspects his wife Hermione, played by College sophomore Molly Bennett, of having an affair with his best friend Polixenes, played by College junior Brian Gale. While the first act is mired in heavy emotional turmoil, the second act, which takes place 16 years later, shifts the tone of the play into slapstick comedic territory as the location switches from Sicilia to Bohemia. The ending, with Shakespearean characteristic hairpin plot turns, will remain a mystery until this weekend.

A Theater major and History minor, Sligh has updated The Winter’s Tale, originally set in the playwright’s imagining of ancient Greece, to the 1950s and late 1960s. “I’ve always been a big history buff. I wanted to look at Shakespeare in a historical context. I always loved that — Shakespeare set in a different time,” he explained. “The work is so flexible and universal. You can put it in so many contexts and it’s still so relevant to our society.”

The decision to update the work to a period still in the American memory underscores the shifts in conservatism and plot that uphold the structure of the play, which weaves humor and tragedy more seamlessly than the starkly opposing acts may suggest.

“The early ’50s theme is meant to represent social repression, as well as drastic differences in social class, versus the loosening of sexual mores in the late 1960s,” Sligh said. “I read [the play] as a happy place, this sparkly setting that, in the blink of an eye, is torn apart by this scandal.”

Expect some original plays on gender and role representation in this production: More than half of the actors in this 12-member ensemble play multiple parts. The show is also staged in the round, the first production of its kind in Little Theater since Sligh has been at Oberlin. While most actors are used to proscenium staging, with the audience on only one side of the theater, the round setup “gives you a really different sense of body [and] sense of space,” he explained. “I really wanted the actors to feel like they’re being watched, because a major theme of the play is paranoia — feeling like you’re being judged all the time.”

Look forward to period costumes designed by College junior Natasha Mayer, as well as original music written for the show and selected 1950s and ’60s tunes to complete the time-capsule effect of The Winter’s Tale, famous for being “the jealousy play — it’s all about infidelity.” Come get your daily dose of schadenfreude at Little Theater this weekend.