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Mamillius

A new version of The Winter's Tale by William Shakespeare, adapted by Sheldon Deckelbaum
La Mama e.t.c.
New York
(2005)

Mamillius production shot

The e.t.c. after this famous Off-Off Broadway theatre's name stands for Experimental Theater Club. The strengths and weaknesses of this very accessible reworking of The Winter's Tale are all in that word, "experimental".

Adapter/director Sheldon Deckelbaum has had the novel idea of viewing Shakespeare's tale of jealousy from the point of view of Leontes' small son Mamillius, a small boy who dies early in the original.

Visually, this makes for a very attractive prospect as the action takes place in the boy's bedroom, complete with many building blocks and the brightest of contemporary costumes. Designer Sandra Goldmark and costumier Camille Assaf have each done their director proud. Coincidentally, both are at their best rendering the pastoral scenes in Bohemia.

This version can seem breathless, as fairly large sections are excised from the original but this ensures that the pace is maintained. In no time, Dan Cordle's King Leontes has been consumed by sexual jealousy, killed his wife, seen his son die and banished his baby daughter.

The cast numbers only seven and inevitably, this requires much doubling of parts. This is Sheldon Deckelbaum's undoing, though it so nearly works. Meg Howrey plays Leontes' Queen Hermione and also their daughter, Perdita. Similarly, Adriean Delaney plays father and son, Polixenes and Florizel, and two fine couples they make. Up to a point, this works well.

However, there are occasions when the same person would have to be on stage in two roles simultaneously and the director, not too surprisingly, cannot achieve this. His solutions include cutting certain scenes and having Polixenes not only disguised as the play requires but also played by someone of different age, gender, race and size. This must confuse anybody seeing the play for the first time.

One novelty is an amazing performance from the charming Raum-Aron in the title role. He is reputedly only nine years of age and while not perfect, does really well both as the young prince and a really novel pocket-sized, pocket-picking Autolycus.

The atmospheric soundscape is on balance a success, although it does occasionally drown out speech. particularly from Raum-Aron.

Mamillius like its progenitor, manages to have a very moving (Perdita-less) finale as the Queen has her dramatic moment and Leontes' long purdah is relieved.

The Mamillius theme sometimes mysteriously disappears in this entertaining production but at its best creates moments to savour, especially the almost famous stage direction, "Exeunt chased by a teddy-bear". William S. is probably disappointed that he didn't come up with that one.

Reviewer: Philip Fisher