When jealousy takes hold of a person, it tends to end in hasty decisions that sometimes even Time cannot forgive or forget. In the case of King Leontes of Sicily, jealousy leads to a killing spree, resulting in the death of his wife, Queen Hermoine, son, Mamillius, and infant daughter, Perdita.
Time plays a different part in “The Winter’s Tale” though. Not all that was lost is found, but quite a few surprises arrive at King Leontes’ court some sixteen years later.
Shortening a four-act play down to one, the Wheel Theatre Company’s final DC production is ambitious but masterfully done.
“The Winter’s Tale” is one of William Shakespeare’s later plays, and while it was found among other comedies, the dialogue doesn’t arouse much laughter until more than halfway through the plot. Even that laughter though, has undertones of a sad, mistake-filled past.
King Leontes starts off kind, asking his friend, King Polixenes, to extend his nine-month stay. When his pregnant wife Hermoine succeeds in convincing Polixenes thought, Leontes quickly assumes his friend and wife were lovers behind his back. King Leontes asks Camillo to poison his friend, but the promise doesn’t result in the revenge Leontes seeks. Camillo spills the plan to Polixenes and the two of them escape to Bohemia. Infuriated, Leontes goes after his wife, claiming her unfaithful and seeking advice from the Oracle before taking his next step.
When the Oracle’s words do not match up with Leonte’s beliefs, he grows even more furious. After his wife gives birth, he orders her dead and arranges for Antigonus to kill the newborn child. Antigonus cannot perform the act and instead leaves the babe in the forest to be saved by whoever approaches her. The Shepherd and his son Clown find the baby and raise her as their own family member. Time comes and goes; love replaces jealousy.
As The Wheel Theatre Company’s director Jack Read puts it, “this is a play that, like puzzles and dreams, refused to be tidy or fit itself together fully.” But that makes the story all the more lifelike, doesn’t it? Life is not a straight line, but a bunch of squiggles.
Shortening a four-act play down to one, the Wheel Theatre Company’s final DC production is ambitious but masterfully done. The cast does a tremendous job remembering the lines of multiple characters and maintaining energy in such a fast-paced production.
Lee Havlicek is convincing as a distraught King Leontes, unsure of himself or anyone around him. Elizabeth Ung is strong and powerful as Queen Hermoine, while hilarious as the old Shepherd and adopted father of Perdita. Mackenzie Larsen does a great job balancing the silly, rambunctious energy of a young Mamillius and love-struck Perdita. Similarly, Aron Spellane splits his time as the valiant Antigonous and goofy, foolish Clown. Maria Simpkins is mesmerizing as Paulina, a voice of reason who believes tapping into Leonte’s emotions will bring him out of his unreasonable ways. Moira Todd is hilarious as Autolycus, bringing a lighter energy to the stage with her facial expressions and movements.
Simple as they are, the costumes and props help tremendously in following the crew as they swapped between multiple characters. The use of big gaudy gold chains helped to distinguish the Shepherd and Clown from their former poor selves before they stumbled upon Princess Perdita. Similarly, the change in long jewel-toned sweaters helped to distinguish nobles from other characters. The obvious disguises of King Polixenes (fake beard) and Camillo (eye patch) also brought chuckles out of the audience. Finally, the wings that flew onto Time were another simple, but nice touch.
While “The Winter’s Tale” quickly speeds through time, keeping up and piecing the various storylines together isn’t what keeps me scratching my head. What I continue to question is where Hermoine hid all those years, why she waited until her daughter returned to reappear to her husband and what happens next.
Running Time: 100 minutes with no intermission.
“The Winter’s Tale” plays until October 19, 2019, at DC Arts Center in Washington, DC. For more information or to purchase tickets, call the box office, Wednesday through Sunday from 2 – 7 pm, at (202) 462-7833 or click here.