In our country’s current state, it is often easy to forget the role that hope plays in our daily lives. Hope, rebirth and rejuvenation of the human spirit are only a few themes that Michael Kahn explores in his new adaptation of William Shakespeare’s “The Winter’s Tale,” a masterful work currently playing at the Shakespeare Theatre.
The play opens in the austere court of Sicily. King Leontes, Queen Hermione and the young prince Mamillius are entertaining their guest, King Polixenes from the nearby kingdom of Bohemia. When Leontes suspects that his old friend Polixenes is the father of his queen’s unborn child, he imprisons his wife. King Polixenes and Camillo, one of the king’s advisors, flee Sicily.
Despite pleas of innocence from Hermione’s gentlewoman, Paulina Leontes refuses to believe his queen has been chaste. Hermione prematurely bears the king a daughter. When Paulina presents the princess to the king, he rejects the infant and orders one of his advisors, Paulina’s husband Antigonus, to abandon the child.
Word arrives from two of the king’s messengers that the Oracle at Delphos decreed that Hermione is indeed chaste, but it is too late. News arrives that the young prince Mamillius is dead. The queen faints and is carried out. Soon, Paulina returns to announce that the queen is dead and all appears to be lost.
As the story continues, Antigonus transports the infant princess to Bohemia, where she is found and raised by an old shepherd and his son. Sixteen years elapse and we see the princess, known as Perdita, has transformed into a beautiful young woman. She is romantically pursued by King Polixenes’s son, Florizel, who does not know of her royal stature. In the midst of their merriment is Autolycus, a rogue who looks forward to causing a little mayhem wherever he sees fit.
Philip Goodwin’s tortured Leontes enrages the audience but also compels us to feel his misery. A stoic and regal Hermione, played by Lisa Bruneau, compliments the performance. Equally and justly matched are Mireille Enos and Jeremiah Wiggins in their roles as the young lovers Perdita and Florizel, respectively. The birth of love between a new generation of nobles presents the play with the opportunity for a happy ending indeed.
The more comedic scenes of the play include stellar performances by Donald Sabin (Old Shepherd), Patrick Shea (Young Shepherd) and Donald Corren (Autolycus). Their appearances in the three-hour show often seemed few and far between, but they were worth the wait.
Also present in the cast is Emery Battis, playing the role of Time, without which it would not have been possible to so seamlessly move between countries and years.
As the characters are affected by the passing of time, so is the set. The undulating and sparse scenic design of the Sicilian court blooms before the audience’s eyes into the rolling fertile hills of Bohemia. Combined with an apt musical score, costume and lighting designs, this production is not to be missed.