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A CurtainUp Review
The Winter's Tale
The Mobile Unit is at the heart of The Public Theater . . . and in some ways, it is the most representative work of the Public .
— Oskar Eustis, Artistic Director of the Public Theater, excerpt from his Program Note. —
winter's tale
Stacey Yen (photo: Carol Rosegg).
The power of The Winter's Tale is palpable in the Mobile Unit's exuberant new production now in its sit-down run at the Public Theater's LuEsther Theater. Following its tour of the boroughs at community centers, senior citizen homes, homeless shelters, and prisons, New Yorkers now can enjoy Shakespeare's late romance without spending a penny (all tickets are free). In fact, when it comes to classical theater this holiday season, this Winter's Tale may well be the best theater bargain in New York.

If your eyes and ears are a virgin to the Bard's late romance, no worries. The program has a who's who in The Winter's Tale, complete with the pictures of the actors who play each dramatic character. Once you've scanned the personages and linked them to their respective countries, go to the timeline immediately below it, which will give you a whirlwind tour of the plot, which geographically begins in Sicilia, shifts to Bohemia, and comes full circle back to Sicilia.

Although Shakespeare's contemporary Ben Jonson ridiculed him for giving the landlocked Bohemia a seacoast, this late-career work has many admirers, including the renowned Dr. Samuel Johnson (he was a big fan of the rogue Autolycus). Today we tend to admire the work for its originality and boldly tackling the darker side of human sexuality. So say what you will about the eccentric geography, the playwright surely knew how to spin a memorable yarn about a king who goes berserk when he imagines his pregnant wife has committed adultery.

Like all Mobile Unit productions, the most remarkable feature here is that it proves how little we need to put on a satisfying Shakespeare production. Indeed, this one is mounted on an almost bare stage, with only 10 actors, so don't expect to see the characters Autolycus, Cleomenes, Dion, Archidamus, or Mopsa and Dorcas on the boards. They have been altogether jettisoned from this production, along with large swaths of the original text.

While purists may argue that the amiable rogue Autolycus is as central to the story as Leontes and Perdita, this truncated version, as directed by Lee Sunday Evans, is far from anemic. It opens with some jazzy a capella singing by the cast, seamlessly segues into the meaty story, moves through the twin tragedies of Mamillius and Antigonus' death, sweeps through the wide gap of time (16 years in all) between Act 3 and 4, and closes with the breathtaking statue scene, family reunions, and announced nuptials of the younger generation.

The outstanding performances of the entire cast make this Winter's Tale something to brag about. Leontes is played by Justin Cunningham, who nails the part by aptly conveying the king's misogyny and madness through Act 3 Scene 2, and then contrasting it with his long journey through repentance and spiritual rebirth. Stacey Yen, as his stage wife Hermione, is well-cast in her role. Yen projects the requisite refined manner of a queen, but in her trial scene, shows that she also possesses a fierce temperament and powerhouse voice.

The rest of the cast is equally impressive. Ayana Workman, as Perdita, has a gentle eye and endearing personality as the peasant girl who's later discovered to be the lost princess. Chris Myers does double-duty as the puppeteer (and voice) for Mamillius (assisted by Nina Grollman) and later morphs into the strong-minded and loyal Florizel. Grollman takes on Emilia and the Young Shepherd, and acquits herself well in both roles.

Let's not forget Patrena Murray, as Paulina, whose character sequesters Hermione for 16 years and "stage manages" the famous statue scene where Hermione regains human life. Most importantly, Murray personifies Paulina as a no-nonsense woman who speaks truth to power.

Nicholas Hoge, is excellent as the King of Bohemia who's forced to flee for his life from Sicilia. His Polixenes gains dramatic texture in Act 4 when he disguises himself as an Old Shepherd and spies on his son Florizel as he courts Perdita. Not only is it fun to watch the royal as a meddling father, but on a deeper level, we see him ironically mirror, in muted form, Leontes' tyrannous disposition as he attempts to keep his son from marrying the supposed peasant girl Perdita.

Christopher Ryan Grant gets the biggest laugh for his quicksilver change from his character Antigonus to the Old Shepherd at the play's midpoint. The former character gets chased by a bear (to synch with Shakespeare's most famous stage direction "Exit, pursued by a bear.") and returns in a nanosecond as the latter character, ready to step in as the foster father of the 16 year-old Perdita.

Stripped of theatrical embellishments, the message of the play inevitably becomes clearer: People can sometimes misjudge others, even those closest to them. Although it can create havoc in individual lives and the larger community, time is the great arbitrator—and the truth will eventually surface. Of course, graft on to this moral lesson, the themes of jealousy, madness, and rebirth, and we get the gist of this pastoral romance that begins with sorrow but ends with joy.

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The Winter's Tale by William Shakespeare
Directed by Lee Sunday Evans
Cast: Justin Cunningham (Leontes), Christopher Ryan Grant (Antigonus, Old Shepherd), Nina Grollman (Young Shepherd), Nicholas Hoge (Polixenes), Patrena Murray(Paulina), Chris Myers (Florizel), Sathya Sridharan (Camillo), Ayana Workman (Perdita), and Stacey Yen (Hermione).
Sets: Mariana Sanchez
Costumes: Ntokozo Fuzunina Kunene
Puppet design: James Ortiz
Music composition: Heather Christian
Stage Manager: Alfredo Macias
Public Theater, at 425 Lafayette Street, East Village. Tickets are free. For more information, visit
From 11/26/17; opening 11/30/17; closing 12/17/17.
Performance schedule: Tuesday through Sunday at 7:00 p.m and Saturday and Sunday at 2:00 p.m.
Running time: approximately 100 minutes with no intermission
Reviewed by Deirdre Donovan based on press performance of 11/28/17

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