Southern Oregon University’s extraordinary production of William Shakespeare’s “The Winter’s Tale” is filled with passionate performances, skillful direction and dynamic staging. As the play opens, King Leontes, falls into a jealous rage over his wife’s interest in his best friend; the tragic and comic consequences drive the rest of the story. I chatted with play director David McCandless and actors Esau Mora (King Leontes) and Aleah Zimmer (Queen Hermione) on the mezzanine of the Southern Oregon University Student Union.

EH: The Shakespearean verse was so clearly delivered, what was your process of putting the play together?

DM: We began around the table for three days going through the play, going through the verse, talking about what things meant in a sort of micro-sense. Some of the language is rather obtuse, especially Leontes’ lines; the syntax is so tortuous and the meaning is really allusive.

There is also something interesting about working together as a group to penetrate the textual mysteries. Then we actually did the whole play to get a real strong sense of the story.

AZ: He disguised it on the rehearsal schedule as ‘telling the story of “The Winter’s Tale.”’ We got it up on its feet.

EM: Book in hand. That kind of exploration really helped, to have no preconceived notion of what we wanted to do, or any artistic pretension. It was just throwing ourselves out there and trying to go through it.

DM: Then we started into rehearsals and all of that intense scene work. The scene work consisted not just of blocking and acting, but still talking about, “What does this mean?” We’re still doing that in some instances, still figuring things out.

EH: How did you work with scansion (the analysis of meter)?

EM: After having scanned it, the language is so broken-up.

AZ: Your lines are so hard to scan.

EM: Sometimes they cannot be scanned. You’ll go through sections that are in perfect scan form, then they’ll go into 12s, they’ll go into 10s, they’ll stop at nines, there’ll be feminine endings. And they are clues about, “This is the most logical he is right now; this is the clearest he is here. Here it feels fragmented and broken, so I can use a movement there since there is no language.”

Then I decided what I needed, so that it became more visceral.

AZ: For me, scansion didn’t come until later on in the process. I used it as a resource of, “I’m lost here, I can’t understand this, so let’s go back to the text and scan it out and see what I can draw from that.” I find that if I scan too early, I get caught up in my head, and it doesn’t serve me in terms of the character.

EM: I tried to find the moments for him to snap out of a blind rage and into a lucid calculation of what’s going on. He is trying to control himself, as humans can’t always. I was trying to put as much focus and love into him as I possibly could.

AZ: I think Hermione comes from a place of such strength and love for life in general. She’s one of the strongest characters I’ve ever played.

DM: I was intrigued by the strength of the women in the play. This could be construed very legitimately as a play about the divine feminine; so we went with that.

“The Winter’s Tale” by William Shakespeare plays at 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, May 28-30, and at 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, May 30-31, in the Center Stage Theatre on the Southern Oregon University campus, 1250 Siskiyou Blvd., Ashland. For tickets and information call 541-552-6348 or go to oca.sou.edu/box-office.

Evalyn Hansen is a writer and director living in Ashland. She trained as an actor at the American Conservatory Theatre and is a founding member of San Francisco's Magic Theatre. Reach her at evalyn_robinson@yahoo.com.