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In a Time of Winter Comes a New Winter's Tale

The Dresser would like to say that the Folger Theatre's offering The Winter's Tale, a late hard-to-categorize play by William Shakespeare, belongs successfully to Director Aaron Posner for his pleasing re-imagining that brings a cast of musician-actors, puppetry, and beautiful well-crafted costumes on stage. However, Posner's directorial notes thanks everyone, including the audience, for coming together to make this dark story of a king gone mad who ruins his family a joyful turnabout. Posner says this production of The Winter's Tale is a collaboration that thoroughly focuses on how an audience "might respond to this or that moment... if this or that ancient or archaic word will be understandable and, often, how the show will all add up for you at the end."


On March 22, 2018, the Dresser arrived at the Folger having skimmed the unfamiliar five-act play which she had never seen in live production. Before she had completely settled into her seat with her bulky parka (yeah, Washington, DC, is experiencing a prolonged winter), unexpected music began playing from house left. Were they practicing? What music was this? And who were these musicians dressed in costumes not usual for a music ensemble? As it turns out, this production has original music composed and written by Liz Filios (Cleomenes, Mopsa and others) in collaboration with Eric Hissom (Storyteller, Camillo, Antigonus and others), Emily Kaye Lynn (Dion, Dorcas and others), Daven Ralston (Mamillius, Perdita and others), Joshua Thomas (Archidamus, Young Shepherd and others) and the cast of The Winter's Tale. Furthermore, these actors are versatile musicians playing keyboard, cello, guitar, banjo, dulcimer, ukulele, squeezebox, drums and probably something else the Dresser missed.

Was the music entertaining? Yes and apropos, it drew lines like "Love makes beggars of us all" from the text of the play. Instead of a Greek chorus named Time, this production features a song about time where the entire cast joins in. As music director, Liz Filios does a great job transitioning into musical numbers. As Storyteller, Eric Hissom plays a part created specifically for this production.

Written in five acts and divided into two parts by a 15-minute intermission, this two-and-half-hour production presents the story of Sicilian King Leontes (Michael Tisdale) causing the deaths of his young son Mamillius and then his wife Hermione (Katie deBuys) while having banished his infant daughter to a distant country. This happens because Leontes urges Hermione to persuade his friend Polixenes, King of Bohemia, to extend his stay in Sicilia at the court of Leontes. When she does this, Leontes flips and accuses them of adultery. He orders his pregnant wife imprisoned. Polixenes (Aldo Billingslea) is warned by Camillo (Eric Hissom), a counsellor of Leontes, to flee. In prison, Hermione gives birth and Paulina (Grace Gonglewski), an influential and outspoken lady of the court brings the infant to Leontes to show the king that the baby looks like her father even down to same dimple. Gonglewski's performance is a tour de force. Leontes rages that the child is not his and orders it brutally killed. His couriers beg him to reconsider and thus he orders Paulina's husband Antigonus (Eric Hissom) to take the child to some desert place and abandon it.

Relenting, Leontes calls for a judgment from the Oracle of Delphi. Hermione is brought into the court to hear the verdict. The Oracle exonerates everyone except Leontes and he erupts, tearing up the written pronouncement. Thunder cracks and a nursemaid rushes into court to say the King's son is dead, his gentle soul worn down by the separation from his mother. Cleverly, Mamillius has been cast as a child-sized puppet, expertly handled by Daven Ralston. Costume designer Kelsey Hunt dresses Ralston and the puppet in the same eye-catching royal blue suits with cranberry red caps. Hearing that her son is dead, Hermione swoons in a dead faint.

Puppet Son.jpg

In the final scene before intermission, Antigonus who has been haunted by visions abandons the baby whom he has named Perdita. To reinforce his visions, a white scrim is hung for shadow puppetry that includes Hermione speaking to Antigonus and a sighting of the bear who will kill and eat him.

The remaining two acts take place 16 years later when Perdita (Daven Ralston) has come of age as the daughter of a shepherd. Florizell, the Prince of Bohemia (Drew Drake) has fallen in love with Perdita but not with his father's blessing. Drake gives a charming contemporary nod to his character allowing Florizell to utter current day slang "my bad." Camillo, who has spent the life time of Perdito in Polixenes' court after saving this king from the other king's jealous wrath, sees an opportunity to return home to Sicilia and he offers to help the young couple escape from Florizell's father. Except for a few hiccups, order and happiness are restored to both kings as Perdita is established as Leontes lost daughter. The magical surprise is that Hermione lives.


Everything about this production of The Winter's Tale is worthy of one's time and attention, even down to the way the Storyteller's plaid pants were buttoned in a snug cuff above his shoes. And so, this excellent production passes from Winter to Spring, a good metaphoric exit.

Kurt Olsson's poem "How Many Angels" while holding close the angelic son King Leones lost, reverberates with the joy that returns to the court of Sicilia when both his banished daughter and his wife return to him.


And afterwards where do they go
spilling from the pin's head like wildflowers
dried and forgotten in an unread book?

And what happens to their music?
Does it stop or do the notes still jig and echo
like tin horns in the cities of the damned?

What comes of the slippers and the tambours,
pan flutes and lyres, all the instruments
of their useless dancing?

And what of the angel,
last numbered, one metaphysical foot lifted
for his first and forever final dance step?

by Kurt Olsson
from Burning Down Disneyland

Photo Credits: Teresa Wood


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This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on March 23, 2018 4:58 PM.

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