Every morning for the past week, Helen Machin-Smith woke up to the sound of her house guest, Therese Diekhans reciting Shakespeare.
Whether in the shower or cooking breakfast, Diekhans spends every spare moment running lines from “A Winter’s Tale.”
“Until you know the lines, you can’t do the character,” said Diekhans, who compares performing Shakespeare to the challenge of performing music, where you have to get your eyes off the sheet music to express the depth of the song or, in this case, the words.
Diekhans and a cast based out of Seattle and the San Juan Islands, and even Turkey, will perform Shakespeare’s “A Winter’s Tale” on San Juan Island starting July 15. Although the title suggests a story set in the winter season, it actually refers to something more like an old tale or fable.
Machin-Smith says the play moves from winter to summer, not so much as in seasons, but as in the mood of the play. She would know considering she is the director. She and Daniel Mayes founded the theater company, Island Stage Left and this is their 13th year of bringing Shakespeare and many other productions to the islands.
“It’s not a sad tale,” she adds. “It starts with jealousy and ends with redemption and forgiveness that is really bittersweet.”
It’s a story about two friends. One accuses the other of having an affair with his wife, which then leads to a series of unfortunate and tragic events. In the beginning, Paulina, played by Diekhans, warns that this man’s jealousy will create conflict. At the end, she helps bring a happy ending of reunions and a marriage.
“It has one of the strongest characters for women, one of the best,” Machin-Smith said. “Really, she [Paulina] runs the play.”
“A Winter’s Tale” is known for not being quite a tragedy or a comedy, but rather a romantic tale or, as Diekhans puts it, “a dramadie,” which combines elements of drama and comedy.
But all of Shakespeare’s comedies have “meat to them,” said Machin-Smith.
Diekhans adds that Shakespeare’s work “also has a significant human…” pausing in mid-sentence to think.
Then Machin-Smith and Diekhans simultaneously finish the sentence with “dilemma,” before breaking into laughter.
It’s obvious that the two women have bonded over their love of Shakespeare. They both reminisce about their high school years and the English teachers that first inspired their interest in the Bard’s work.
Diekhans has performed in numerous Shakespeare productions and recently landed a role in “The Merry Wives of Windsor”. However, she describes herself as “an actor who goes where the work is.”
That work has now brought her to San Juan Island.
Diekhans was attracted to this play because of the main character, Paulina, and her “honesty and bravery,” which is an interesting coincidence as Diekhans is performing somewhat of an act of bravery in taking on this role. She accepted the part just a few weeks ago, on June 28, after medical reasons forced the original Paulina to leave the play.
For any actor, having to perform with little notice comes with the territory. So until opening night, Diekhans will continue rehearsing lines at the breakfast table.
She’s not the only one gearing up.
The week before the show, Machin-Smith takes her actors to a series of locations for what she calls “magic rehearsals.” One location represents the somber, dark themes and another location represents the more light-hearted whimsical nature of the play. At the last location everyone runs through a scene, but no one raises their voice.
“And we see what comes out of that,” Machin-Smith said.
As they finish their final rehearsals, Machin-Smith looks back at the long hours of work leading up to the first show.
“It’s a great play, a terrific cast,” she said. “We have live music and comedy and of course like a lot of Shakespeare’s work it is a great deal about love.”