Linda Emond, Ruben Santiago-Hudson,
and Jesse L. Martin in The Winters Tale
(© Joan Marcus)
Linda Emond, Ruben Santiago-Hudson,
and Jesse L. Martin in The Winters Tale
(© Joan Marcus)
Shakespeare's The Winter's Tale, currently being presented by the Public Theater as part of its 2010 Shakespeare in the Park season at the Delacorte Theater, is well known for its curious combination of comedy and tragedy. In Michael Greif's disappointingly uneven production, however, the comic bits are allowed to shine brightly, while the dramatic power of the piece remains largely untapped.

As the play begins, Leontes (Ruben Santiago-Hudson), the king of Sicilia, suspects that his queen Hermione (Linda Emond) is having an affair with his best friend, the king of Bohemia, Polixenes (Jesse L. Martin). To say that he overreacts would be an understatement, and his rash deeds cause a great many characters harm.

Santiago-Hudson declaims his speeches without mining the rich emotional depths behind the words; he seems neither truly angry, nor later, truly penitent. Emond fares only marginally better, and does not hit the mark in what should be an impassioned speech that Hermione gives when standing accused and awaiting the word of the Oracle to clear her good name.

Martin, on the other hand, is a delight to watch. His infectious smile and upbeat manner as Polixenes nicely contrasts with Leontes' more sullen mood. The actor also proves his dramatic chops in the second act, as it's Polixenes' turn to overreact and turn against his son Florizel (Francois Battiste), threatening to disown him and to execute the family of his son's beloved, Perdita (Heather Lind).

The second act also contains some wonderful work by two of the show's supporting players. Hamish Linklater as the rogue Autolycus is endlessly entertaining, managing to provoke laughs with nearly all of his words and actions, no matter how trifling. Jesse Tyler Ferguson is similarly amusing as a dim-witted and rather fey clown, who is the son of a shepherd (well played by Max Wright) in Bohemia.

Marianne Jean-Baptiste makes an initially strong impression as Paulina, a good friend of Hermione who argues her case in front of Leontes. The actress has a strong presence and an appropriately saucy attitude, but doesn't find enough variety in her lengthy speech towards the end of the first act. The reliable Byron Jennings does fine work in the relatively thankless part of Camillo. Neither Battiste nor Lind make much of their roles, and the latter's halting manner of speaking is at times grating.

On the design front, Mark Wendland's scenic design works well with the natural beauty of the Central Park backdrop. The use of several metallic basins containing fire add luster to both the set and to Ken Posner's lighting design -- even if the best effects come from Mother Nature's setting sun. Tom Kitt's original music is at times jaunty, and at other moments more haunting, reflecting the changing moods of the play. This production's representation of the infamous "Exit, pursued by bear" stage direction, however, leaves something to be desired.