“Love makes beggars of us all.”
This poetic phrase encapsulates the central theme of the Folger Theatre’s performance of William Shakespeare’s “The Winter’s Tale” — the inextricability of love and suffering. A trio of romance, tragedy and comedy, Folger’s rendition of this Shakespearian classic transports its audience to a realm of possibility where love has the power to heal even the harshest wounds.
“The Winter’s Tale” follows the families of King Leontes of Sicilia, played by Michael Tisdale, and his longtime friend King Polixenes of Bohemia, played by Aldo Billingslea. Blinded by jealousy, Leontes accuses his pregnant wife, Hermione, played by Katie deBuys, of having an affair with Polixenes and banishes them both from Sicilia. Once Hermione gives birth to a girl named Perdita, Leontes demands that his newborn daughter also be banished from Sicilia. Polixenes, too, flees to his country, Bohemia, where the play’s action resumes 18 years later.
The second half of “The Winter’s Tale” begins with the revelation of the forbidden relationship between the now grown and beautiful Perdita, played by Daven Ralston, and Polixenes’ son Florizell, played by Drew Drake. From here, the play centers on forgiveness as a grieving Leontes seeks mercy for his injustices toward Hermione, Polixenes and Perdita.
“The Winter’s Tale” is riddled with dualities — life and death, beginning and end, fact and fiction — that director Aaron Posner perfectly executes without distracting from the play’s dialogue. The characters often break the fourth wall to engage directly with the audience. In one instance, the audience becomes the jury for Hermione’s trial, highlighting the interplay of fantasy and reality inherent in Shakespeare’s work.
Duality is also present in Kelsey Hunt’s costumes. While the Sicilians don sophisticated culottes and gowns reminiscent of the early 1900s, the Bohemians’ wardrobe matches their title, aligning more with the carefree vestments of the 1970s. One standout is Perdita’s white lace dress, complemented by a crown of pink carnations on her head, which mimics her status as a pure embodiment of hope and goodness.
Although the whole cast works together to make Folger’s “The Winter’s Tale” successful, it is the women of the show who hold the spotlight. Under Posner’s direction, Shakespeare’s lines take on new meaning, representing a feminist demand for recognition and equality. Ralston and deBuys bring spunk to their roles, elevating the traditional portrait of mother and daughter.
When Hermione is accused of adultery, she boldly proclaims, “I am not prone to weeping as so our sex commonly are.” Later, overcome by anger, Hermione’s closest confidant, Paulina, played by Grace Gonglewski, risks her life to stand up to Leontes. Together, the two are powerful reminders to women everywhere to remain steadfast when faced with adversity, especially poignant considering today’s #MeToo movement and Women’s marches.
In terms of the show’s male characters, the strongest performance comes from Tisdale. Mastering an array of emotions, from jealousy to pain to contentment, Tisdale brings an element of authenticity to the role of Leontes. He embodies the joy that can stem from pain and proves that it is possible to redeem oneself from sin.
Although the antiquated language of “The Winter’s Tale” is not as difficult as some of Shakespeare’s other works, its plethora of plotlines can be hard to follow. However, the thespians account for this possibility through exaggerated, often comedic, mannerisms and crisp musical numbers. Mostly folksy in style, the show’s music, directed by Liz Filios, captures the comedic, tragic and romantic moments that may be hard to grasp otherwise.
One standout moment is when the thief Autolycus, played by Kimberly Gilbert, performs a cheery song on the ukulele, but struggles to swap what were previously raunchy words with clean content. What follows is a moment of pure comedy, an escape within an already escapist work.
Despite its chilling name, “The Winter’s Tale” leaves the audience with feelings of warmth and optimism. It transports the audience to two magical lands, each filled with its own toils and possibilities. To echo Filios’ musical motif, Folger’s “The Winter’s Tale” is sure to make a beggar out of any Shakespeare lover.