There’s no getting around it — The Winter’s Tale, as far as Shakespearean romances go, is a weird play.
One King’s jealous rage springs into action for seemingly unfounded reasons. Huge chunks of action during the play’s conclusion happen offstage, and are summarized hurriedly in an aside. Oh, and there’s a bear.
But Winter’s Tale just needs a director who will take the play’s quirks and run with them, and Folger has one in Aaron Posner. The director’s clear affection for the work is evident throughout this most recent production, often embodied by the show’s winking, knowing narrator (Eric Hissom, one part among many for the versatile performer).
Folger’s version is visually breathtaking (thanks in part to the striking, pristine blue and white set) and gently moving (warm musical interludes help add to the comfy vibe of the production).
A Winter’s Tale shows how jealousy can rapidly become a form of madness (a theme frequently explored by the Bard). One king (an increasingly frenetic Michael Tisdale) is consumed by it, leading to the end of his closest friendship with a fellow monarch (a stately Aldo Billingslea), the imprisonment and killing of his wife (the captivating Katie deBuys), the abrupt death of his son (brought to life through puppetry; nice touch), and the banishment of his newborn daughter (Daven Ralston). As deBuys wraps up a heartstrings-pulling monologue, staunchly defending her innocence, it’s easy to wonder: “Is this play actually a tragedy?”
Never fear: Act Two jumps ahead eighteen years, and in true Shakespearean form, hijinks and concealed identities bring the cast of characters together again, this time leading to a happy (if incredulous ending).
The Winter’s Tale
closes April 22, 2018
Details and tickets
The action in the second half of A Winter’s Tale can feel rushed and confusing (how exactly does king Leontes come to figure out the grown Perdita is his daughter, for example? Blink and you’ll miss it). Get past that, though, and there are treasures to be found here, such as the introduction of the crafty thief Autolycus, a scene-stealing part tailor-made for Kimberly Gilbert, who lends her an over-the-top sneakiness reminiscent of Les Miserables’ Thenardiers.
Folger had the good timing to stage A Winter’s Tale in the throes of an unseasonably cold spring, and Mother Nature it seems has worked in the company’s favor here: this show is just the thing to help the audience curl up and get cozy — as long as they can let go and embrace the zaniness of this particular classic.
A Winter’s Tale by William Shakespeare. Directed by Aaron Posner. Scenic Design by Luciana Stecconi. Costume Design by Kelsey Hunt. Lighting Design by Jesse Belsky. Composer and Music Director: Liz Fillos. Sound Design by Patrick Calhoun. With Aldo Billingslea, Katie deBuys, Drew Drake, Liz Filios, Kimberly Gilbert, Grace Gonglewski, Richard R. Henry, Eric Hissom, Emily Kaye Lynn, Daven Ralston, Joshua Thomas, Michael Tisdale. Produced by Folger Theatre Company . Reviewed by Missy Frederick.