by William Shakespeare
Directed by Michael Donald Edwards
Asolo Repertory Theatre
Florida State U. Center for the Performing Arts/Mertz Theatre
5555 N. Tamiami Tr., Sarasota, (941) 351-8000,
January 23 to May 16, 2009 (in revolving rep) 

Reviewed by Marie J. Kilker

How miraculous! Not only the happy ending of The Winter’s Tale. It’s also Director Michael Donald Edwards’ setting it in the 1950s and ‘60s without falsifying but rather pointing out the relevance to any age of the drama and comedy in Shakespeare’s fairy tale romance. NoTechnicolor movie, not even in Cinerama, could wrap around the goings-on better than Clint Ramos’ flexible moving walls with often breathtaking projections and lighting by Daniel Scully.
The red full-skirted-gowned (a-la-Dior) and black tuxedoed courtiers of King Leontes (Dan Donohue, with regal bearing) typify happy Sicily, where he’s been entertaining lifelong friend Polixenes (charming David Breitbarth). To persuade him to stay longer, the King enlists help from wife Hermione (dignified Kris Danford). But seeing his wish being carried out, Leontes suffers a jealous attack so acute that he condemns the Queen, takes son Mamillius from her, and dispatches cupbearer Camillo to poison Polixenes.  But Camillo (touchingly portrayed by Douglas Jones) warns Polixenes, and both flee to his kingdom, Bohemia. Almost as soon as it is predicted that Leontes will have no heir until redemption of King and kingdom than he learns of Mamillius’ death.
In prison Hermione bears a daughter. Still livid, the King believes its father is Polixenes’.  Thus Leontes orders a servant to abandon the babe on a distant isle to fend for itself.  What he doesn’t learn doesn’t hurt her: She’s found in Bohemia by a Young Shepherd (funny clown David Yearta) who abets his father, a kindly Old Shepherd (James Clarke, seriously comic), in taking the babe for his own daughter. In the meantime, back at the grown-grim palace, Leontes has lost both respect and all his friends. His messengers to the Oracle of Apollo return with a pronouncement of Hermione’s innocence. When her companion Paulina (strong, impressive Mercedes Herrero) tells Leontes his wife is dead, he becomes a penitent as sorry as the mood of his country.  Paulina, though wife of  the King’s vassal Antigonous (James Leaming, tending to seem perplexed), devotes herself to mourning the Queen and visiting her tomb. If Shakespeare did in fact write a famous stage direction, Antigonous is doomed to be pursued, presumably to death, by a bear. Leontes, heirless, buries himself in remorse and penitence. But, despite a storm at sea that will follow, this ancient sad tale of winter promises to give way to a happier modern one.
After intermission, an elaborate Asolo space odyssey leads to a thrilling planetary descent to the stage by a modern Apollo stagecraft, from which descends Time. Removing his helmet, he looks and sounds like Einstein, but with the fairy tale message equivalent of relativity. Significantly, Time (reliable Jason Peck) reveals that 16 years have passed.  Florizel, Prince of Bohemia disguised as a shepherd (Kevin O’Callaghan, eagerly romantic), is in mutual love with Old Shepherd’s “daughter” Perdita (tall, thin Heather Kelley, reminiscent of a lively boy who might have played the shepherdess in Shakespeare’s time).
What a contrast is life in pastoral Bohemia (announced in a giant Greetings post card) to that in the death-centered old Sicilian court! David Zinn and Jacob Climer’s flower-filled country costumes not only reinforce the sun-bright scene but are appropriate for a musical, dancing, romancing gathering of hippies. Onto the sheep-sheering scene, turned spring festival, come blanket-bound, beaded, and feathered Polixenes, with Camillo at his side, to spy unrecognized on the King’s son. A major feature of the bash is the rock-singing peddler Autolycus (brash, almost bigger than life Brent Bateman). Fresh from his thieving but uproarious ways he drives in via a psychedelic-decorated VW bug to wow the peasants, satirizing court life. It doesn’t seem that court would be a welcoming place for Perdita, when Polixenes drops his disguise, wanting his son to do the same and not to take a peasant seriously.
From here on, revelation after revelation follows. The Kings get together. The Old and Young Shepherd are honored. The young lovers, representing a new generation formed of both their families, will too.  Since Leontes has atoned for his sins against Queen and kingdom, Paulina promises to show him a redemptive work of art , and a miracle occurs! Its staging is beautiful and a complete melding of romanticism and realism. One might also say this of Asolo Rep’s entire production, along with some terrific comic effects, choreography by Jimmy Hoskins, and Sarah Pickett’s sound and original music. All due respect goes to Michael Donald Edwards for giving due respect to Shakespeare’s power today.
The fine supporting cast includes Steven O’Brien, Randolph Paulsen, DeMario McGrew, Elizabeth Ahrens, Michael Trachtenberg, Kip Taisey, Heather Kopp, and Carolyn Zaput.  Alternating as Mamillius are Austin Abrams and Owen Teague, both of whom look as if they could be the sons of Leontes and Hermione. Stage Manager for the nearly 3 hour production is Marian Wallace, assisted by Libby Mickle.

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