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'The Winter's Tale': An experience to not be missed

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William Shakespeare is a playwright that everyone has an opinion of whether it be good or bad. Stark Naked Theatre mixes just the right amount of classic theater and modern intrigue as they bring "The Winter's Tale" to the stage.

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This production being “minimalist” allows the cast members to paint the picture for us through actions and staging. Director and Co-Executive Director of Stark Naked Theatre, Philip Lehl, has brilliantly stripped away all distractions to highlight and enhance the intensity and at times obscurity of this play. Lighting done by Lighting Designer David Gipson plays an important role as well in this production, more so than most due to the minimalist set. Throughout the production, the lighting serves as backdrops or intensifies emotions depending on how it's being used.

The play opens with lead actor and director Philip Lehl who plays Leontes, taking note of the varying roles between actors taking on not only multiple characters but varying between gender as well. One of the most impressive aspects of this assemble cast, is their seamless ability to transition between staging, setting and characters without missing a mark. The cast taking on various roles in the performance creates an added challenge on each performer to portray each of their parts in such a distinct way that the audience does not get lost in the story.

“The Winter’s Tale” is a whimsical, fun yet tragic story of two kings who find themselves in the midst jealous accusations. Leontes, king of Sicilia, becomes enraged and obsessed with the idea that his loving, devoted wife Hermione (Tawny Stephens) has taken his boyhood friend Polixenes (Luis Galindo), king of Bohemia, as a lover. Defying all reason and a message from Apollo's Oracle at Delphi, Leontes condemns his wife, in doing so himself as well and Polixenes flees back to his country narrowly escaping a similiar fate.

Moving forward in time, audiences are brought to Bohemia where Polixenes’s son, Florizel (Matt Lents) desires to Polixene’s displeasure to marry beneath his station. His son is told to flee to Sicilia where he seeks refugee with his love from the wrath of his father and king. Despite the reasons behind the actions in this comedic yet dramatic play, each King must discover the consequences of their actions and realize that they can change before it is too late or risk losing everything to their own stubborn, egotistical natures.

Due to last minute cast changes, director Lehl takes center stage as Leontes. He delivers the performance with the perfect creative mix of emotions and power. Audiences will find themselves cursing him for his foolish choices and stubbornness, all the while still being drawn to him and hoping for his success and happiness. Lehl plays Leontes with just the right amount of finesse to have audiences both love and hate his character at the same time.

Standing beside her King, loving and loyal, Stephens portrays his wife Hermione, with pure emotion. Audiences will weep as she pleas for her life and vows to her wifely duties. Galindo as Polixene is another complicated character for audiences. Just as they can both love and hate Leontes, they will find themselves torn with Polixene as well. Galindo, like with the entire cast, uses his body and facial expressions to create both comedy and sorrow. Audiences will be drawn in to experience the humor and wit as well as reaching for a few tissues to mourn with the characters in tender and sorrow filled moments.

Lents as Florizel, son of Polixene and his love, Perdita (Shunté Lofton) both have a soft, tender nature about their characters. Audiences will cheer on their love as they attempt to combat the odds and be joined together in marriage. Smaller roles at times, highlight the major themes of the overall production such as these two’s love or Camillo (Jeff McMorrough) who exhibits undying devotion and loyalty. Each of these characters and actors transform on stage and audiences are taken on their intimate journey with them.

“The Winter’s Tale” has it all the intrigue, betrayal, humor, sorrow and finally repentance. This is a production not to be missed for fans of Shakespeare, top quality theater, and moving, powerful performances. Come discover a newfound appreciation for classical theatre with a modern twist. Audiences won’t be disappointed.

Due to casting changes, “The Winter’s Tale” only has three more shows Wednesday, May 14 and Thursday, May 15 at 7:30 pm and closing night on Friday, May 16 at 8 pm. Don’t be discouraged and be sure to pick up your tickets for this one of a kind production while you can. For ticket information, visit their website at www.starknakedtheatre.com or pick them up at the door, STUDIO 101 is located at 1824 Spring Street, Houston, TX 77007. Although this closes the current Stark Naked season, the 2014-2015 season is right around the corner and production announcements are beginning to be made. Be sure to check back to see what is ahead.

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