Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.
The Winter's Tale
Shakespeare's late romance relies heavily on an atmosphere of fantasy and heightened emotion, which Robison heightens by presenting it as a play within a play. A young boy in red long underwear (Zophia Pryzby), clutching a teddy bear, listens as his father (Lawrence Redmond) recounts the story of Leontes (Daniel Stewart) and Hermione (Connan Morrissey), king and queen of Sicilia, and Leontes' friend Polixenes (David Whalen), king of Bohemia. The actors naturally move from the frame story into the action, becoming Antigonus, a member of Leontes' court, and the king's son Mamillius.
The play often has been considered problematic for its mixture of genres and moods, modulating from grim tragedy in the first half to frolic and romantic comedy in the second. Kronzer's set, along with Kate Turner-Walker's costumes and Kenton Yeager's lighting, bridge the difference: Leontes' palace is a cold place with forbidding, shiny black walls flecked with white (snowflakes? stars?), and the courtiers wear only black and white. However, when the action shifts to the countryside of Bohemia and 16 years pass, the darkness gives way to shimmering light, bright sunflowers and charming peasants wearing mismatched fabrics.
The pastoral romance of the latter scenes brings together Florizell (Dan Crane), son of the suspicious Polixenes, with the winsome shepherdess Perdita (Laura C. Harris), who has no idea she is actually the princess of Sicilia. The tossing of flower petals actually means something in this production, unlike in the Shakespeare Theatre Company's recent, overly stylized production of Twelfth Night.
Stewart, a tall, bald, imposing actor who resembles his father Patrick Stewart, ably depicts the collapse and restoration of Leontes, a man destroyed by his insecurities and baseless suspicions but saved by (literally) undying love. With an open face and guileless presence, Morrissey conveys boundless devotion to her family in the most extreme of moments. Naomi Jacobson dominates every scene where she appears as Paulina, friend and advisor to Hermione and wife of Antigonus. The other standouts are Drew Eshelman as the kindly shepherd who raises Perdita and Anthony Cochrane as the con man Autolycus, whose plotting helps drive the second act.