Review: A disappointing “Winter’s Tale”

Culture Curmudgeon

King Leontes (Michael Tisdale) begins to feel the pangs of jealousy, as his queen Hermione (Katie deBuys) speaks with his best friend Polixenes (Aldo Billingslea). Photo: Teresa Wood

If there’s a lesson to be learned from seeing William Shakespeare’s “The Winter’s Tale”, it’s that jealousy is one of the most destructive emotions known to man. The play is being staged at Washington D.C.’s Folger Theatre through April 22, 2018.

It’s one of the bard’s lesser known plays, but it’s probably also among his strangest and unpredictable.

It’s a comedy and tragedy, a romance and a tale of revenge all in one. If you aren’t familiar with the work, you’ll probably wonder what Shakespeare was trying to accomplish with “The Winter’s Tale.”

Ahmad Coo is a producer and copy editor for the Global Business show on CGTN America. His analysis represents his views alone.Culture Curmudgeon Ahmad Coo

The play spans nearly 20 years. “The Winter’s Tale” strikes a very light tone from the beginning. The character interactions are funny and it seems like a comedy.

In the first part, we see King Leontes of Sicilia hosting King Polixenes of Bohemia. They’re great friends who go way back. Leontes’ wife Queen Hermione is also friends with Polixenes and the three seem to be genuinely enjoying each other’s company in the first act.

But Leontes’ joviality is just a front. Behind it burns white-hot jealousy. He suspects Hermione has been cheating on him with his friend Polixenes. We don’t know why he thinks this because Shakespeare doesn’t give us any background.

Leontes’ suspicions finally overtake his logic and plots to have his friend Polixenes murdered for sleeping with his wife.

Polixenes catches wind of the plan and flees. Seething, Leontes has his very pregnant wife imprisoned for her alleged betrayal.

All Leontes’ aides and closest friends try to convince him that his wife had been loyal all along and that his suspicions are completely unfounded.

But he can’t be swayed, and his wife is forced to give birth to their daughter in prison. Absolutely everything starts going downhill for the Leontes and his family.

The playfulness and levity you see in the first few scenes is replaced with darkness and tragedy. Several characters die and it just gets progressively worse for everyone.

The shift in tone is so radical that one can’t help compare it to a schizophrenic patient who has a psychotic break. And just to make it even more confusing, the first part of the play ends with a hilarious aside referring to a very violent death for one of the main protagonists.

Time (Eric Hissom) addresses the audience in Shakespeare’s “The Winter’s Tale” playing at Folger Theatre through Apr 22, 2018. Photo by Teresa Wood

The latter half of the play is more even, without the wild swings in tone. It turns into a melodrama with the predictable ups and downs. But Shakespeare throws a wrench into the plot’s mechanisms again in the end with an absurd plot twist. By then I had lost interest in the climax and denouement, letting the play wash over me like tepid water.

If “The Winter’s Tale” has any redeeming qualities, it was the cast’s versatility. If it weren’t for their efforts, the play would have been that much more mediocre.

Eric Hissom and Kimberly Gilbert are the standouts- effortlessly switching between the multiple characters they play. Another plus in Aaron Posner’s interpretation is its pleasing aesthetics- thanks to the beautiful set and playful costumes.

Unfortunately, the sum of its parts isn’t enough to compensate for the script’s glaring weaknesses, leaving the audience out in the cold.