The Winter’s Tale HalfMad Theatre


Design by Leanne Mercadante (draft version)

Design by Leanne Mercadante (draft version)

Recently I directed William Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale for my company, HalfMad Theatre.  What a glorious and terrifying experience it became.


The cast of The Winter's Tale

The cast of The Winter’s Tale

The Winter’s Tale is called a problem play, and it is called a problem play for many, many reasons.  Give it a read.  The first time through may be a bit rough.  The second time through you might find more places that are “problematic” that you didn’t discover before.  By the third or fourth read, you’ll think you might be a little crazy for picking this play to produce and direct.  You, dear reader, would be correct.  The play takes place over sixteen years, in two different countries.  There is a scene involving an Oracle and a one time character called “Time”.  The first 2/3 of the play are very dramatic, a jealous husband accuses his wife of infidelity within the first ten minutes of the show, seeming to come out of almost thin air.  He then spirals into a type of madness that gets his wife “killed”, his son dies, presumably of a broken heart, his best friend and his advisor flee the country together, and one of his most loyal subjects gets eaten by a bear.  Then you are smacked in the face with a rollicking comedy, that is a bit abrupt, where there is a satyr dance, a sheep shearing festival, and quite possibly the first dildo joke made in the history of theatre.  Then at the end, after the comedy, we are thrown back into a watered down rom-com where father and daughter are reunited, and dead wife is a statue that returns back to life and isn’t really dead.  Oh and the lady that was the wife of the guy who got eaten by a bear, immediately after learning of his death, is basically forced to marry the advisor that left, but now returned because everything is okay now.


Our thoughts exactly.

Our thoughts exactly.

I had a hard time relating to this play.  I wanted to do it.  There is a bear, which is an interesting draw for a puppeteer, but I also thought we could come up with a way to tell the story that is the heart of the play.  A lesson about jealousy and redemption.  I hadn’t been able to think of a way to tell this tale until this last year.  For the first time in my life, I had a family member, and my best friend from childhood pass away.  It was shocking and devastating, and not to go into too much detail, but I was left feeling there were things I never got to say, and that was my fault.  I had my own regrets and that is where I finally, FINALLY, understood how and what I wanted to say with The Winter’s Tale.  I wanted to say: I love you, I miss you, and I’m sorry.  You will never be forgotten.

It can be incredibly easy to think about what you want to do, but when you put it into practice, you find out that it is much more terrifying than you expected it to be.  I had a hard time focusing on little things I needed to do: finish cutting the script, work on designs for the puppets, analyze conflicting parts of the text.  The closer I got to it, the more emotionally raw I felt.  I cried in rehearsal a few times.  I grew distant from my talented cast a few more times because directing this play was turning into a type of penitence.  I was stuck in limbo until the show went up.  Rehashing in my brain every drive home how could I make sure I said everything I wanted to say in this show.  I cried a lot.  A lot.

Tech week was hell.  It usually is.  There are a few things I would have done differently, puppet and set wise, but the actors were phenomenal.  They captured each character in a way that was unique and honest to the story we were telling and the audience was with us every step of the way.

Here is the DC Metro Arts Review  , the Bright Young Things review,  and the DC Theatre Scene review.

Time was a major character who moved the action along.  We set the story in Leontes’ memory, the final memory of a dying man.  It was his limbo too.  Time kept the show moving, taking out the need for an oracle and playing many different characters.  The two had a dynamic relationship always pushing forward and hesitant at the same moment.  Time made Leontes live through the hard moments of his life, never hesitating to point out the truth, even if it was incredibly hard to swallow.

Connor Hogan as Leontes.

Connor Hogan as Leontes.


The cast was comprised of four ladies and five men.  Camillo, traditionally a male role, was changed to female so that a) there was another role for a woman and b) there could be an interesting relationship between her and Polixenes, the man that is accused of sleeping with Hermione, Leontes’ wife.  The Winter’s Tale is like an episode of Springer….

The puppetry was difficult to figure out in terms of style and simply put, I ran out of time and money to put towards the puppets.  The bear ended up being very simple and not what I wanted at all.  I would do it better next time and will make a bear that is up to my own personal standards.  I was, however, very pleased with the puppet we used for Mamillius.  Mamillius is the son of Leontes and tragically dies after he thinks his mother is going to be sentenced to death.

Justin Mohay, Frank Mancino, Paige O'Malley, Connor Hogan and Mamillius

Justin Mohay, Frank Mancino, Paige O’Malley, Connor Hogan and Mamillius

The puppet was an accurately proportioned six year old child.  I made my sister measure my niece and send me the dimensions.  He was a bunraku style puppet and if I do this style again, I would not have put leg rods on, instead would have made his legs like a table top puppet, so he could stand independently and move a little easier across the stage.  He was wood, foam, brown paper, and cloth. His arms broke once or twice, so I would think of a better way to build them, but overall, I was really happy with how he turned out.  Audience members either forgot he was a puppet and empathized with his death, or were totally creeped out because he was too life-like.  Either way, a huge success.

At the end of Shakespeare’s text, Hermione comes back to life.  It’s strange and clunky and I didn’t want it to  end on a happy note.  Our Hermione was much more ambiguous.  More of ghost, an embodied gift of forgiveness and love that was neither alive or dead. While this experience was heartbreaking, it was also incredibly beautiful.  People laughed.  People cried.  It made people reflect on their own feelings and more importantly, how fleeting life is.

The Winter’s Tale played at Capital Fringe’s Trinidad Theatre from March 13-29.