Following two seasons producing off-site, during the still-ongoing renovation of the Folger Shakespeare Library, the Folger Theatre at last returns to its intimate, historic space, and in an understandably celebratory mood.
Celebration resounds throughout Tamilla Woodard’s spry, modern-dress production of Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale. Of course, though proceedings commence with a birthday fête for a prince and close with an engagement party, the mood swings wildly in between, from exultation to fury to utter despondency and back again.
The king of swing in that regard is the impulsive King of Sicilia, Leontes, portrayed by Hadi Tabbal with a passionate conviction in whichever direction the monarch’s fickle heart may turn.
Leontes and his queen Hermione (Antoinette Crowe-Legacy) joyously honor their 8-year-old prince Mamillius (Clarence Payne, alternating in the role with Richard Bradford) with a gathering that includes dear friend, Polixenes (Drew Kopas), the King of Bohemia.
Then, stricken to learn that Polixenes plans to return to his home kingdom, Leontes pleads with him to extend his visit in Sicilia. Appealing to his friend’s sense of loyalty and affection, Leontes even dispatches his pregnant wife Hermione to dissuade Polixenes from going. And when she succeeds, Leontes is quick to jealousy, mad with it considering she only did what he asked.
Tabbal conveys a ruler who, stung by the mere thought of such foul betrayal, holds onto his rage, twists it, and becomes enveloped in it, consumed with exacting vengeance on Polixenes and Hermione for their imagined affair. There isn’t much reason behind Leontes’ subsequent actions which, this being Shakespeare, lead to tragedy.
Shakespeare’s apparent reasoning — to depict a ruler who cannot be reasoned with or deterred from disaster, despite attempts by all those who advise him — offers compelling compensation for Leontes’ total lack of sense. Woodard’s staging extends the context to include modern leaders who’d wipe out whole families on a whim.
Hermione largely pays the price for her king’s changing moods, and Crowe-Legacy delivers such a funny, full-bodied take on the queen, that the toll of Hermione’s losses is surely felt.
That toll is also sharply felt through Kate Eastwood Norris’ dynamic turn as the queen’s loyal lady Paulina. Cody Nickell, as Camillo, the honest Sicilian ordered by his king to poison Polixenes, likewise deftly summons the gravity and comedy often at play simultaneously.
Camillo also helps bridge the story’s move from Sicilia to Bohemia, where jovial peddler Autolycus (Reza Salazar) is free to simply entertain us all, while stealing scenes and picking a few pockets. Salazar has the audience practically in his pocket from the moment he makes his bravura entrance pedaling the peddler’s little bike.
And Woodard allows him space to play, while keeping the packed plot on pace through a frolicking hoedown, a shadowplay bear attack, and other surprises. The costumes by Sarah Cubbage furnish abundant color and character, as in the hilarious scene of Polixenes and Camillo in disguise watching young lovers Florizel (Jonathan Del Palmer) and Perdita (Kayleandra White).
Del Palmer and White don’t register a romance that really inspires, but Florizel and Perdita do inspire the party where Leontes and Hermione ultimately are dealt their sweet taste of magical redemption. It’s not the most convincing, or deserving happy ending, but it’s daringly hopeful, believing that such a wrong-headed ruler might live to rue having acted so rashly, and relish a second chance to make it right.
The Winter’s Tale (★★★☆☆) runs through Dec. 17 at The Folger Theatre, 201 East Capitol St. SE. Tickets are $20 to $84. Call 202-544-7077 or visit www.folger.edu.
The Shakespeare Everywhere Festival runs through December 31, featuring The Winter’s Tale among 12 shows in 12 weeks at different venues around the city. For info, visit www.ShakespeareEverywhereDC.com.
These are challenging times for news organizations. And yet it’s crucial we stay active and provide vital resources and information to both our local readers and the world. So won’t you please take a moment and consider supporting Metro Weekly with a membership? For as little as $5 a month, you can help ensure Metro Weekly magazine and MetroWeekly.com remain free, viable resources as we provide the best, most diverse, culturally-resonant LGBTQ coverage in both the D.C. region and around the world. Memberships come with exclusive perks and discounts, your own personal digital delivery of each week’s magazine (and an archive), access to our Member's Lounge when it launches this fall, and exclusive members-only items like Metro Weekly Membership Mugs and Tote Bags! Check out all our membership levels here and please join us today!