The Winter's Tale
Director Tamilla Woodward shows generosity and forgiveness in her vision of Shakespeare's late romance–serious and borderline tragic in the first act, lighthearted in the second–placed in a contemporary setting, beginning with a party celebrating the eighth birthday of Mamillius (Richard Bradford, who alternates with Clarence Michael Payne), son of the king and queen of Sicilia, Leontes (Hadi Tabbal) and Hermione (Antoinette Crowe-Legacy). However, Leontes has come to the false belief that Hermione has been unfaithful to him with the visiting Polixenes (Drew Kopas), his childhood friend and the king of Bohemia, which leads to sorrow and lost opportunities to connect. Sixteen years later, Florizel (Jonathan Del Palmer), son of Polixenes, falls in love with the charming Bohemian shepherdess Perdita (Kayleandra White), who has no idea that she is actually Leontes' daughter.
Of the dedicated cast of performers, the one who seizes attention throughout is Kate Eastwood Norris as Paulina, Hermione's chief attendant and advocate. Tall, a woman of substance in her elegant blue suit (just one of Sarah Cubbage's striking costumes), Norris embodies rectitude and a belief in truth, and as Paulina she is the architect of the play's resolution. Tabbal subtly telegraphs Leontes' insecurity from the beginning of the play, while Crowe-Legacy aches as she tries vainly to ease her husband's suspicions with logic and sincerity.
Then comes the second act, which examines issues of trust and belief through a generously comic lens (and much more amusing costumes). There's Autolycus (Reza Salazar), a petty crook and charmer in a mismatched set of clothes, riding onstage on a child's bicycle and inviting the audience to join a singalong; the father and son shepherds (resolute Stephen Patrick Martin, goofy Nicholas Gerwitz) who accept Perdita's presence as a strike of magical fortune; and Polixenes and his attendant Camillo (Cody Nickell), who put on silly disguises to infiltrate the sheep-shearing festival where Perdita and Florizel make plans to marry.
Raul Abrego Jr. has created a streamlined scenic design that uses staircases, tall sliding doors, and glass-enclosed spaces to delineate the succession of scenes in both austere Sicilia and verdant Bohemia. Max Doolittle's lighting design incorporates an ingenious bit of shadow puppetry at a key moment.
The Winter's Tale runs through December 17, 2023, at the Folger Shakespeare Library, Elizabethan Theatre, 201 E. Capitol St. SE, Washington DC. For tickets and information, please call 202-544-7077 or visit www.folger.edu.
By William Shakespeare