For centuries, “The Winter’s Tale” has been known as one of William Shakespeare’s “problem plays.”
“The thing that is great and problematic about Shakespeare’s mystery plays is that they start as tragedies and end as comedies,” PCPA Theaterfest Artistic Director Mark Booher said, and “The Winter’s Tale” is a perfect example. “There’s a kind of fundamental hope underneath all the hard action of play. It’s a story that begins tragically and ends with a miracle.”
Booher directs “Invierno,” an ambitious adaptation of “The Winter’s Tale” by California playwright José Cruz González. (The name means “Winter” in Spanish.)
The play makes its world premiere Friday in Santa Maria.
“(Audiences) are definitely going to be going on a journey,” González said, “a journey that will be heartfelt and painful at times, a celebration of life and of light and of love.”
According to Booher, the theater company first presented González’s work in 2004 as part of its annual “Interplay” festival of short plays.
González teamed up with PCPA Theaterfest a few years later to create “The Heart’s Desire,” about a Mexican-American veteran who returns home after World War II with his French bride. The play premiered in the summer of 2008.
“It was a perfect storm in the most positive sense,” actor Richard Gallegos recalled, noting that cast and crewmembers’ input was an integral part of the creative process.
“José Cruz is so open to suggestions and ideas. He’s really right there with his eraser waiting to hear any ideas that the actors have,” Gallegos said. “He has the capacity to remove his ego from the process and that’s really rare.”
According to Booher, his experience with “The Heart’s Desire” left him eager to work with González and actors Gallegos, Catalina Maynard and Leo Cortez once more.
He commissioned González to create a new work, based on “The Winter Tale.” The result is “Invierno,” a powerful tale of love and redemption set on the Central Coast set between 1831 and 1848 — a particularly turbulent period in California’s history.
Like Shakespeare’s complicated play, “Invierno” centers on a ruler whose baseless jealousy costs him his family and his happiness.
Don León (Gallegos), the owner of a large and prosperous ranch, suspects his pregnant wife Hermonia (Leah Dutchin) of dallying with his closest friend, Don Patricio (Evans Eden Jarnefeldt).
“He’s living in a time where you have to defend your property, you have to defend your honor,” Gallegos said of Don León. “That affects his emotions. ... Everything he does is done out of a belief that he’s actually right.”
Rather than risk death, Don Patricio and manservant Caspian (Andrew Philpot) flee. Hermonia protests her innocence, but to no avail.
While in jail, she gives birth to a baby girl named Perdita, who escapes with the help of the ill-fated Alejandro (Leo Cortez). She’s later brought up by a kindly sheep rancher (Peter S. Hadres).
Don León’s chance at redemption comes 16 years later, when Don Patricio’s son, Florentino, falls in love with Perdita.
Although much of the action takes place in the past, “Invierno” is framed by the story of a modern-day couple, indentified only as Young Man (Cody Craven) and Young Woman (Sabrina Cavalletto).
“They almost conjure up this world … as an allegory to help them through their own journey,” Gallegos said.
Hermonia’s half-sister Paulina (Catalina Maynard), a Chumash woman, serves as their guide.
Booher and González said they strove to give the Shakespearean tale a 21st-century sensibility.
“We were really looking to find a way to incorporate the view of a young person,” Booher explained, providing “an entry point to something that would otherwise seem old-fashioned or obscure.”
PCPA’s production team — including costume designer Juliane Starks, lighting designer Jennifer “Z” Zornow and sound designer Chris Luessmann — worked to ground “Invierno” visually and thematically in the Central Coast.
Scenic designer Tim Hogan’s set takes its inspiration from the crumbling adobes that dot the Central Coast countryside. A massive oak tree stands to one side of the adobe structure, its branches arching over the 145-seat Severson Theatre.
Just like the set, the story of “Invierno” reflects a region rooted in history, Booher said.
The play features dialogue and song lyrics in English, Spanish and Samala, the ancient language spoken by the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians. “Invierno” may be the first full-length play to feature Samala, González said.
According to Booher, the play was created with Central Coast audiences in mind.
“We’re working … to make something thrilling and profoundly moving, an absolutely unique art piece voiced very precisely for them,” he said. “Lots of us have put a year of our lives into this wonderful thing. It’s a gesture of love and hope and a desire to be in communication and community.”