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'Tale' to remember

University theater group Shakespeare on the Lawn presents five act play of jealousy and paranoia at local bookstore

From bear attacks to statues come to life, "The Winter's Tale," presented by student-run troupe Shakespeare on the Lawn, did not fail to satisfy this weekend at Random Row Books. The venue, while off the beaten path, is a quaint and intimate setting in which to enjoy an entertaining and satisfying play.

The play opens with King Leontes (Reed Arnold) in a distraught and paranoid state after witnessing simple pleasantries between his pregnant wife Hermione (Allison Abbott) and close friend King Polixenes (Sam McClelland). Although the audience and the rest of the characters in the play recognize Hermione and Polixenes' interaction to be nothing more than friendship, Leontes is convinced the two are lovers and have betrayed him. His thoughts quickly snowball into believing in the existence of more suspicious activity in the court, such as plans for his own murder.

Leontes' paranoid thoughts represent a jealousy that is in all of us, but he takes this nasty characteristic "to the extreme," said Arnold, a fifth-year Commerce student. "We all know what [it] is to be jealous based on inferential information, or [to] be irrationally angry," Arnold said while describing how he related to Leontes. Arnold captures Leontes' anger, frustration and jealousy perfectly and in turn appropriately makes the audience member frustrated with his blatantly false accusations.

Though the play captures the serious paranoia of Leontes, it does so with a smirk. I do not often laugh out loud at anything I am watching, but "The Winter's Tale" had me doing just that. Even Hermione's responses to Leontes' accusations add humor when she says she is "not prone to weeping as [her] kind commonly are" and will not cry because of Leontes' ill-founded allegations against her, as I suspect many of the women in the audience - myself included - would have said.

"The Winter's Tale" shares many elements with Shakespeare's play "A Midsummer Nights Dream" in the sense that there are many misunderstandings. In "The Winter's Tale," however, it is ambiguous whether or not these misunderstandings are resolved. As director Anne Haney noted, "Impossible and unexpected things happen, often with little to no logical explanation" and that it is up to the audience to determine what happens at the end of the play.

Indeed, the play does challenge the audience to suspend its disbelief. The blatant miscommunications, happy coincidences and magical occurrences such as a statue that is brought to life "pushes the audience member to make their own decisions about what they believe," Haley said.

The plotline became a little muddled to me after intermission, but that seems to be the consequence of the Shakespearean language rather than any fault of the actors or director. The Shakespearean language was difficult even to lead actress Abbott, who said she struggled at first to master it.

Despite a few missteps - for example, the sound effects were overbearing at times and made it difficult to hear - this dark comedy kept every audience member entertained and involved in the play. While watching Leontes' life unravel, it was hard not to feel connected to every scene as if every audience member were a member of the king's court.