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This article by Simon Saltzman was prepared for the July 9, 2003 issue of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.
A Summertime `Winter’s Tale’
For Princetonians, there is more than one Ohm’s Law
with which to reckon. While many of you may be familiar with Georg
Simon Ohm (1789-1854), the Bavarian schoolmaster and physicist, who
in 1826 determined the mathematical law of electrical currents called
Ohm’s Law (volts = amp x resistance), you may want to give some consideration
to a different kind of electrical power. One that is more currently
being generated by a descendent, Julia Ohm, the producing director
of the Westwind Theater at the Hun School.
Sparks of a theatrical kind have been flying three times a year for
the past eight years as Ohm and her artistic collaborators present
plays that most professional theaters, let alone those that are community-based,
shy away from.
It doesn’t come as a surprise to hear Ohm say, during our phone conversation,
that "No! I don’t do any of the electrical wiring," but that,
"I am hoping to present the rarely done `Clothes for a Summer
Hotel’ by Tennessee Williams next season," and that "we recently
presented an uncut "The Iceman Cometh" by Eugene O’Neill, as well
as `Buried Child,’ by Sam Shepard. When we did `Iceman,’ it hadn’t
been done in Princeton for 30 years. And we gave them all four hours,"
And when it comes to picking from the Shakespeare canon, Westwind
can be expected to pick one of the Bard’s more perplexing plays "The
Winters Tale." Under the direction of artistic associate Kay Schwinn
Potucek, this part comic, part tragic, part magical play is the company’s
outdoor production, opening Friday, July 11, at the Hun School on
Edgerstoune Road in Princeton. Beginning in tragedy and ending in
enchantment, "The Winter’s Tale" is as famous for its indifference
to the laws of dramatic structure as it is beloved for its endearing
mix of the regal with the rustic.
The play, which tells of a lamentable division between life-long friends
and its aftermath, is also, according to Bardologists, dedicated to
revealing the opposition between age and youth, cruelty and goodness,
jealousy and faith. Potucek, who joined us in conversation, says that
as a sculpture and a painter her vision for "The Winter’s Tale"
is one of texture. Hers is an approach that has come into its own
thanks to such artists and directors as Mary Zimmerman and Julie Taymor.
It is the imagery in the play that Potucek says appeals to her as
well as the language.
"When I first read the play many years ago, I was looking for
audition pieces and noticed how there are so many wonderful roles
for women." Bearing the brunt of King Leontes’ insane jealousy
of Polixenes, his friend who has stayed too long at court, is Queen
Hermione, who remains patient and noble even in adversity; Paulina,
a more realistic outspoken lady of the court, and the Perdita, the
long lost daughter of Leontes and Hermione, who is brought up as a
shepherdess "the queen of curds and cream."
Staging the more difficult works in dramatic literature has been the
goal of Westwind ever since Ohm was asked by the Hun School’s headmaster
James Byer to help him develop arts awareness in Princeton. This,
at a time, she says, when another local group — The Princeton
Community Players — had folded. "We had the space at the Hun
School and we also had the students, who could work both on and off
stage if we remained non-profit," says Ohm, who is the resident
theater director at Hun and also runs its summer workshop theater.
The Westwind is, as she explains, a semi-professional theater with
a core of adult players.
Ohm is pleased to say that she has shared the management of Westwind
from the very beginning with her co-artistic directors Mark Young,
Dale Simon, Melissa Updegraff, and Potucek, who is also the company’s
marketing director. That Westwind’s mission, according to Ohm, has
been its commitment to "great" rather than "commercial"
plays. However, the Westwind’s adventurous followers could be counted
on to make Jean Giraudoux’s whimsically allegorical "The Madwoman
of Chaillot" starring Georgine Hall their biggest box-office hit.
But Ohm also says that September 11, 2001, seriously hurt attendance,
as it did most theaters at the time, taking place during the run of
two new one-act plays by Pete Gurney. Despite what Ohm describes as
the 300-seat theater’s bare-bones budget, she says, "I want to
do the great plays of Ibsen, Chekhov and Shakespeare.
"I named the company Westwind to reflect the changes that come
with a west wind when everything in the atmosphere is shuffled around
and risks are taken. No matter how much we need to make money and
please our audiences, we prefer to be bold and daring," she says.
Out of necessity, Ohm also prefers to be frugal. "Don’t
fall off your chair, but we produced `The Iceman Cometh’ for under
$500. My husband pulled the set out of the trash and constructed the
old broken down bar. If its Chekhov, it’s usually folding chairs.
We are feeling the pinch this year because people expect a little
grandeur with their Shakespeare," says Ohm emphasizing how minimalist,
expressionist, and abstract works more easily fit their tight budget.
Although last summer’s production of "Othello" was produced
indoors, Ohm says, "It was too hot performing without air-conditioning
and we probably won’t do that again." "The Winter’s Tale"
is being performed at the Mall, a space that can optimistically accommodate
Born and raised in Springfield, Illinois, and currently a Lambertville
resident, Ohm received both her undergraduate degree (1983) and her
graduate degree (in Theater Education) in 2001, from New York University.
Ohm, who says she decided at the age of 12 to be a director hasn’t
changed her vision. Ohm, a member of Actors Equity’s, also performs,
often to critical accolades. U.S. 1 reviewer Jack Florek said about
her performance as Rosalind in "As You Like It" (July 2000),
quote: "Ohm is both charming and sensual. Her tobacco-choked voice
seems perfectly suited to play a woman disguised as a man." Florek
also called Westwind "one of the best theatrical companies in
Ohm has presumably also instilled in her three children — ages
15, 9, and 7 — a love for the theater. The oldest is a student
at Hun and Sebastian Ohm-Young, her 9-year-old, has been cast to play
Mamillius, the son of Leontes and Hermione. Supporting master Ohm-Young
in principal roles are N. Charles Leeder, as Leontes; B.J. Welsh,
as Paulina; Julia Ohm herself, as Hermione; Janet Quartarone, as Time
and Emilia; Steven Dale Davison, as Antigonus; Barbara Hatch, as Camilla,
and M.A. Young, as Polixenes. M.A. Young is also the talent behind
the lighting design, and will undoubtedly be obliged to obey the laws
of both of the Ohms — Georg and Julia.
— Simon Saltzman
Edgerstoune Road, 609-397-7331. Outdoor production of Shakespeare’s
drama. Weekends to July 26. $15; $10 students & seniors. Friday,
July 11, 8 p.m.
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