By Brandon S. Bryan, STS Master of Stage
How can you tell if a play is done well? Is there a list of criteria that audience members take with them on their way to the playhouse? Or some defining trait that will make itself known by the time the final exit is made? Certainly not; to say whether a play is “good” or not is a matter of opinion, right? I would largely tend to agree, with only one or two caveats.
If there is one thing that I believe any given person can tell when witnessing a performance, it is whether the actors are enjoying themselves. It doesn’t matter if it’s comedy, drama, musical, or dinner theatre; if an actor or actress is really enjoying themselves, it shows. Enjoying the role comes from knowing it, being able to breathe it in and let it fill you up while sharing it with everyone else in the room. An actor having fun while performing glows like a beacon out of a harbor. And when an entire Cast is having fun, that’s when you get to see the “magic of theatre” that everyone keeps going on about. To see a cast with solidarity and a singular desire to enjoy the experience is to truly be entertained.
It pleases me to say that you will find just such entertainment when you see The Winter’s Tale this January. There is no shortage of talent here, as Sweet Tea Shakespeare has called on cast members both new and old to take the stage and deliver a story of drama, comedy, and grace. Indeed, the talent of the cast is overshadowed only by the fun that they have in telling a story that is as unique as it is heartwarming.
The tale tells of two kingdoms, Sicilia and Bohemia, ruled by Leontes and Polixenes, respectively. The kings are closer than brothers at first but are soon driven apart by a small misunderstanding mixed with a dash of colossal paranoia. As a result, Leontes is left, it would seem, with no wife, no friends and no heir. Sixteen years later Polixenes has some heir problems of his own: his son has fallen for a shepherd’s daughter and refuses to tell his father about the impending wedding. Amid all the royal turmoil, citizens of both kingdoms wonder little about the goings on of the high-born folk. They are plagued by far more pressing matters, such as finding abandoned infants in the desert, protecting one’s purse whilst on the road, or facing the prospect of being eaten alive by a bear.
Through it all, the fun is evident. You can see it in the tears that we shed, the laughs that we bellow, and the love that we share. Sweet Tea Shakespeare has again achieved that magic, that essence of beauty which, when nurtured by a dedicated company of players, blossoms into an exceptional work of art. It’s readily apparent to anyone who sees: these actors know how to play.