‘The Winter’s Tale’ makes sweeping shifts from drama to froth at Shakespeare Theatre

By Liz Keill

MADISON, NJ – From the chilly winter in Sicilia to the warmth and summer joys of Bohemia, the scene and tenor shift halfway through “The Winter’s Tale,”

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This convoluted plot involving Leontes, King of Sicilia and King Polixenes of Bohemia, circles around jealousy. Jon Barker as Leontes commands the stage in his anger when he thinks his wife, Hermione, is flirting with Polixenes, portrayed by John Kaebler. When she is pregnant, the king sentences her to death, thinking that the unborn child is not his. He also orders the baby to be taken into exile. Erin Partin as Hermione is lovely and her intensity displays clearly how she has been accused and wronged. The calm, cool head throughout all the upheaval in Sicilia is Paulina, performed with assurance and grace by Marion Adler.  The royal young son, Mamillius, played by Jeff Lin, dies because of the loss of his mother.

Antigonus (Ralph Nash Thompson) takes the baby out of the country and to the coast of Bohemia. Thunder and lightning erupt and he runs off, leaving the small child in a cradle. We soon hear the sounds of a bear and, it turns out, that’s the end of Antigonus.  At the beginning of each act, we see Thompson as Time, carrying a huge hourglass and dressed in flowing robes, introducing the coming events.

In the meantime an old shepherd (Ames Adamson, in fine, feisty form) and his none-too-bright son Seamus Mulcahy, also highly entertaining, discover the child. Hidden in the crib is a box of gold. They raise Hermione’s abandoned daughter, 

Creating havoc along the way is William Sturdivant as Autolycus, a rogue. He immediately realizes he can take advantage of the shepherd and his son, stealing their money.

In Act II’s Bohemia,  Courtney McGowan as Perdita is now a young shepherdess, in love with Florizel, (Ryan Wood). They both come from royalty and somehow (through t he magic of Shakespeare, I guess) travel to Sicilia and become reconnected with their families. It all ends happily, despite the dark beginnings.

Artistic Director Bonnie Monte has brought out all the subtleties and contrasts to keep this tale constantly engaging. Costumes by Nikki Delhomme  are an appealing mix, from rags to royalty. The thunder and lightning enhance the atmosphere, as does the lighting by Tony Galaska. Brittany Vasta’s set includes columns and panels covered in icy white or shades of pastels, sometimes with chandeliers glistening with teardrops, and, at the end, a perfectly starry night.

This is a fascinating, festive way to enjoy the holiday season. “The Winter’s Tale” continues at The Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey, located on the campus of Drew University in Madison, through Dec. 30. For tickets, call 973-408-5600 or visit ShakespeareNJ.org.