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Gerald Carpenter: PCPA to Close Season with ‘Invierno ’

The play runs Aug. 27 through Sept. 19 in the Severson Theatre at Allan Hancock College

PCPA Theaterfest will bring its 2009-10 season to a close with the world premiere of Invierno (“winter”), which the Conservatory commissioned from José Cruz González, author of The Heart’s Desire.

Invierno was inspired by William Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale and is set both in the present day and in 19th century Alta California (a subdivision of the Spanish colony, Las Californias, including the present states of California and Nevada).

Invierno is directed by Mark Booher, with sets by Tim Hogan, costumes by Juliane Starks, lighting by Jen Zornow and sound by Chris Luessmann. The production stars Catalina Maynard as Paulina, Richard Gallegos as Don Leon, Evans Eden Jarnefeldt as Don Patricio, Andrew Philpot as Caspian, Leo Cortez as Alejandro, Peter Hadres as Vaquero, Leah Dutchin as Hermonia, Sabrina Cavalletto as Young Woman and Cody Craven as Young Man.

When Clint Eastwood was filming Robert James Waller’s novel The Bridges of Madison County, he told one interviewer that there was one thing he wasn’t worried about: having the media castigate him for ruining a literary masterpiece — since the book, which spent more than a year atop the best-seller lists, was unanimously condemned by reviewers as execrably written, however well organized the story.

Claiming Shakespeare as your source is another matter entirely, inasmuch as all the Bard’s extent plays enjoy an enviable public reputation as unimprovable masterpieces. A closer look reveals considerable fluctuations of literary quality — never, of course, falling anywhere near the abyssal plain of Waller’s flat-footed prose — and widely divergent critical opinions.

More interestingly, I think, Shakespeare’s plays vary quite a bit in popularity, for reasons that often have only a tangential relation to the superiority/mediocrity of their poetry, and the rankings tend to reshuffle with each major social change.

The Winter’s Tale, for example, was well-received when it first was produced, and various actor-producers continued to make a success of it throughout the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries. For most of the 20th century, however, The Winter’s Tale dropped abruptly out of sight, and only experienced the beginnings of a revival in the 1990s.

I cannot explain The Winter’s Tale’s sudden plummet in the public’s esteem except in terms of my own reactions. The play makes me uneasy because it is driven completely by an irrational act — Leontes’ sudden and inexplicable jealousy of his queen and his best friend. In the case of Othello, on the other hand, Iago spends the entire play building the Moor’s jealousy, and his efforts pay off in the homicide of the last act. It is unpleasant, and its underlying assumptions are racist, but it makes sense.

In The Winter’s Tale, the storm comes out of a cloudless blue sky into a peaceful scene of stable domestic happiness. I accept that such things happen, and that they breed destruction, but they don’t belong in a well-made play. Despite some noble lines, The Winter’s Tale is not a well-made play (one of the scenes is set in “Bohemia, a desert country near the sea” — “Bohemia” of course, is the region now called the Czech Republic: no deserts, no sea).

That being the case, I look forward to whatever improvements González can effect. Changing the setting will help. Hispanic cultures have a reputation, deserved or otherwise, for an oversized obsession with masculine “honor.” If he was born to it, Don Leon’s fit of jealousy at least makes a kind of sense. We’ll see.

Invierno will open Friday, Aug. 27 and run through Sept. 19 in the Severson Theatre, on the campus of Allan Hancock College in Santa Maria. For tickets and show times, call 805.922.8313 between 1 p.m. and 7 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday, or click here to order online.

— Gerald Carpenter covers the arts as a Noozhawk contributor. He can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

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