By Hugh Hunter
If you like Shakespeare, you do not want to miss “The Winter’s Tale,” now running at The Drama Group. This prime example of late Shakespeare offers a bit of everything, including an exit line “exit, pursued by a bear” and a statue that comes to life, “Tis time; descend; be stone no more.”
A notorious genre bender, Shakespeare outdoes himself with this one. The opening acts are gripping tragedy: King Leontes’ insane jealousy brings suffering to his Sicilian court. Then we abruptly shift to Bohemia for magical pastoral romance, farce and parody. Still more, “problem play” musings lurk behind all this playfulness.
Director Denise Brunker’s production is spare. Colored cloth panels signal changes in place and season. Apart from Leontes’ regal pendant, dress is unremarkable. But in a play so replete with chimerical events, shifts in mood and genre, as well as poetry as abstruse as any in Shakespeare, you have more than enough to occupy your imagination.
Mort Paterson is mesmerizing as the jealous king. With no Iago to spur him on, Leontes is obsessed that Queen Hermione (Brenna McBride) is making love to King Polixenes of Bohemia (Robert Toczek). Nor will Leontes heed sensible advice from Paulina (Kimberly Hess), other courtiers or even the oracle of Apollo.
Wholly internal, he states if Hermione’s adultery is not true, then “…the world and all that’s in it is nothing.” When Paterson’s Leontes sits quietly, a spooky hint of smile radiates his face (you had to be there). It is another instance of Shakespeare’s prescient psychological insight, in this case a chilling grasp of fanaticism, where self-righteous belief is just covert nihilism.
Then, in a total shift of genre and mood, we leave winter for sunny Bavaria. Perdita (Raina Searles), the exiled daughter of Leontes, has an idyllic pastoral romance with Florizel (Bradley W. Moore), the son of King Polixenes. At the sheep shearing, she is essence of springtime, gifting flowers to all with magical verse.
The second half is full of romance, gaiety, mistaken identity and impossible coincidence, a full turnaround from Leontes’ tense, driven drama. Morality is out the window; David DelBianco shines as the rogue, Autolycus, a pickpocket, prankster and balladeer. One of Shakespeare’s most elaborate rogue/fools, Autolycus sails on and off stage and roams the audience to live by his creed: “What a fool honesty is.”
In this late play, the Bard is wrapping things up. Behind the quixotic shifts in “The Winter’s Tale” lies an unspoken question: What the heck is going on? What is the meaning of genre in art and the relationship between art and reality? What is the meaning of fate and free will? Can free will alter fate? What are morality and the meaning of winter and summer, death and re-birth. And the resurrection idea (that statue again): truth or artifice?
The Drama Group is located at The First United Methodist Church of Germantown, 6001 Germantown Ave. “The Winter’s Tale” will run through Nov. 25. Tickets available at the door. More information at www.thedramagroup.org