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Shakespeare in the Amphitheater

by Louisa Hufstader, Vineyard Gazette

For the past two seasons, tragedy has ruled the stage in the summer Shakespeare productions at the Tisbury Amphitheater. But after last year’s acclaimed Hamlet and a powerful, all-female Julius Caesar in 2017, the pendulum swings back toward Shakespearean love magic with The Winter’s Tale, which opened on Thursday.

The family-friendly show is directed by Brooke Hardman Ditchfield, the Vineyard’s preeminent Shakespeare interpreter, and stars a cast of 15, including nine-year-old Carlotta Lash Roberts as young Prince Mamillius of Sicily.

Believed to have made its debut in 1610 or 1611, The Winter’s Tale is sometimes called a tragicomedy, because its first three acts follow a tragic plot that unwinds in comedy over the final two. But Shakespeare scholars place the play among his romances, a handful of late works that include Cymbeline, The Tempest and Pericles.

“They are the plays that I am drawn to the most because they are so challenging,” Ms. Ditchfield said, during a brief break from rehearsing in the wooded amphitheater Tuesday afternoon.

“[Shakespeare] was at the end of his career when he wrote them, so he was trying out a lot of different conceits. He was trying out the passage of time, he was trying out descending of planets. He was established, he had the money—it was almost like his big-budget era.”

“Nowadays that presents a real challenge,” she continued. “How do you make a statue come to life? How do you have Jupiter descend? How do you have 16 years pass?”

Working under the open sky, Ms. Hardman Ditchfield and her cast and crew have had to solve all these challenges and more. This is the play that has what she calls “the most famous stage direction in the world: ‘Exit, pursued by a bear.’”

Why choose The Winter’s Tale for this year’s amphitheater Shakespeare show? For one, Ms. Hardman Ditchfield said the play has not been produced on Martha’s Vineyard since the 1970s. The language is beautiful, she added, and the play has a timely message for today’s audiences: “It’s a show about forgiveness for the unforgivable, and hope.”

She had another reason as well, or rather two reasons: the actresses Chelsea McCarthy and Amy Sabin Barrow, whom she has cast as the leads Paulina and Hermione.

“I really wanted to see these two strong women play these two strong roles,” Ms. Hardman Ditchfield said.

The cast also stars Nolan Burke, Mac Young, Xavier Powers, Josephine Orr, Molly Purves, Paul Padua, Jules Starn, Amelia Simmons, Curtis Fischer, Sara DiPasquale, Meghan Delphous, Hallie Brevetti and Anne Culbert.

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