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This year’s Shakespear in the Park production is both tragedy and comedy

Iconic English playwright William Shakespeare is rightfully lauded for his skill in writing both tragedy and comedy: His plays continue to be relevant and entertaining more than 500 years after they were first written.

Most of Shakespeare’s works are classic examples of either one or the other; in “The Winter’s Tale,” however, both tragedy and comedy exist in equal measure.

“It’s like two plays in one,” says Nikki Caulfield, who has directed each of Detroit Lakes’ Shakespeare in the Park productions since the program’s inception five years ago.

The play’s split personality appealed to Caulfield, though she did pare down some of The Bard’s original dialogue to hold the production as close to the desired two-hour length as possible.

In the play’s longer pieces of exposition, there tend to be three main elements, she explained: “An introduction to the problem; the mulling of the problem, weighing the pros and cons; and then coming to a conclusion — I cut out a lot of the mulling.”

This also helped simplify things for the actors, who had fewer pages of dialogue to memorize; and, Caulfield hopes, for the audience as well, by making the dramatic exposition a little more succinct and easier to follow.

“I would say the play has maybe been edited a little, more than adapted,” she added.

One thing that hasn’t been altered, however, is the play’s basic structure.

The first half of “The Winter’s Tale” is pure tragedy; the story of how a king’s irrational jealousy can lead to darkness and death for not just one, but two royal houses.

The second act, however, plays out “almost like a pastoral comedy,” Caulfield said, as the children of those same two royal houses meet, and of course, fall in love.

It’s a whimsical, light-hearted love story, complete with a choreographed dance sequence that contains many familiar pop culture elements (most notably, a segment set to Michael Jackson’s “Thriller,” complete with zombie dance moves) as well as dancing shepherdesses and satyrs.

“You can’t go wrong with satyrs, right?” Caulfield joked.

The second act also takes place 16 years after the first, so the characters that appear in both must be “gracefully aged,” as the director told her cast of 17 actors and actresses prior to Monday’s first dress rehearsal.

“We can’t do full stage makeup here,” Caulfield said, referring to the fact that the production is literally taking place in a park — i.e., outdoors, with natural lighting that tends to make all but the lightest makeup “look ridiculous,” as she put it.

While Caulfield does not put pop culture references into each year’s Shakespeare in the Park production — last summer’s “Romeo and Juliet,” for instance, played out pretty much as scripted — she felt it fit in with the light-hearted nature of the play’s second half.

The dance sequence, which was choreographed by Taylor Wutzke of Frazee, contains “a lot of recognizable dance move,” Caulfield said. “The actors are having to learn a little choreography this time. It’s really quite entertaining.”

Not all of the humor is confined to the second act, however; in a sequence toward the end of the first half where the courtier Antigonus (Noah Mercil) is tragically mauled by a bear, said bear looks suspiciously small (the role is played by young Amara Sonneman, who also portrays Thalia). 

Also, once Antigonus is killed, his severed leg  (prosthetic, of course) makes an unexpected appearance that is so incongruously funny, even the small audience of fellow cast members and crew at Monday night’s dress rehearsal burst into uncontrolled laughter for several moments.

Though Monday night was one of just three planned dress rehearsals prior to Friday night’s debut performance, Caulfield wasn’t feeling the stress at all.

“They’re close, I can tell,” she said. “They just need to run through it a couple times and get the flow of things right. They’ll be golden come Friday. I have no worries.”

There are six performances planned for “The Winter’s Tale,” with the first being this Friday, June 28 at 7 p.m. in the Detroit Lakes City Park Bandshell.

Additional performances are planned for 7 p.m. Saturday, June 29; 4 p.m. Sunday, June 30; 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday, July 5-6; and 4 p.m. Sunday, July 7.

There is no admission fee for any of the performances, though a free will offering will be taken at each show, during the 10-minute intermission between acts. Bench seating is limited, though all area residents are invited to bring their own lawn chairs or blankets to enjoy the show in comfort.

Shakespeare in the Park is produced annually by the Historic Holmes Theatre, as part of its BTD Community Connections series. For more information, please call 218-844-7469 or visit

Meet the cast

Leontes, King of Sicily: Christopher Schreiner

Hermione, Queen of Sicily: Tianna Schwartz

Polixenes, King of Bohemia: Wilson Vave

Florizel, Polixenes’ son: Devyn Becker

Perdita, daughter of Leontes and Hermione: Kodi Boit

Camilla, advisor to King Leontes: Mandi Neumann

Paulina, Lady-in-waiting to Queen Hermione: Christine Kinney

Antigonus, a Sicilian lord: Noah Mercil

Emilia, Lady-in-waiting to Queen Hermione: Rosie Vave

Officer/Mariner: Devyn Becker

Thalia/Bear: Amara Sonneman

Autolyca, a rogue: Katie Anderson

Dianne, a Sicilian lady: Tammy Jensen

Clown/Jailer: Caleb Schreiner

Cleomena, a Sicilian lady: Rachel Vave

Mopsa: Kaisa Vave

Dorcas: Rachel Vave

Shepherdess: Shayna Rodeman

Decima, a Sicilian lady: Kendra Jensen

Satyrs: Tianna Schwarz, Christopher Schreiner, Noah Mercil, Amara Sonneman, Christine Kinney, Kendra Jensen

Vicki Gerdes

Staff writer at Detroit Lakes Newspapers for the past 16 years, currently editor of the entertainment and community pages as well as covering city council and the Lake Park-Audubon School Board. Living in DL with my cat, Smokey.

(218) 844-1454