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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,"

says Ohm.

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

1,000 patrons.

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

the area."

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

A Winter’s Tale , Westwind Repertory, Hun School,

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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