Monday, October 17, 2005

The Winter's Tale

For those in or around Milwaukee: Our favorite composer (Keith Obadike) composed the score and designed the sound for the production of The Winter's Tale that opened Saturday at the Milwaukee Shakespeare Theatre.

The story opens in Sicilia, where King Leontes is entertaining his old friend (King Polixenes). During this visit, Leontes becomes convinced that Polixenes is having an affair with this pregnant wife (Hermione) and plots to kill him. In a nutshell: Polixenes flees home to Bohemia and Leontes sends Hermione to the dungeon, where she has his baby and then dies of grief. Mad Leontes orders the baby killed. Luckily, the baby girl escapes this fate and is instead raised by a farmer in Bohemia. She grows up and falls in love with Polinexes' son. They run to Sicilia to elope (because Polixenes doesn't approve of his son marrying a commoner), where it is discovered that she is the now regretful Leontes' lost daughter. All families are reunited and even Hermione (who has mysteriously been turned into a statue) comes back to life.

It is a weird, weird play, but when I saw the version director Gia Forakis workshopped at Yale three years ago I really liked it. Historically, the challenge for designers is how to show difference between the cold world of Sicilia (where all goes awry) and the warm, friendly world of Bohemia (where love blossoms) while showing the similarity between those kingdoms. Forakis, playing on the notion that The Winter's Tale is known as Shakespeare's Greek play (in part because of structure and the appearance of The Oracle at Delphi), directed designers to use references from classical Greek theater for Sicilia and from representations of the Greek Isles for Bohemia. The strategy worked to give an accessible language for the audience while claiming a visual and sonic language that was unique to the production.

When Keith composed the score, we went to concerts at a Hellenic Studies conference at Yale, met with Greek dance specialists, and went trudging through the rain to find a Greek speciality music store in Queens. We bought and listened to all sorts of Greek music. (We even bought some Greek hip-hop -- Goin' Through -- which, understandably, did not end up influencing the score.) Keith ended up composing a score that was intensely personal, while reflective of the music we heard. This time around, the score was extended to allow for double readings of characters' intentions and for certain characters to stay onstage for longer periods of time. Though I haven't seen the Milwaukee version of The Winter's Tale, the score is alternately haunting and infectious (if I do say so, myself).


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