The Winter's Tale
The Mobile Unit plants itself at the Public Theater for an off-Broadway run, free of charge.
The Mobile Unit extends the Public's famous Shakespeare in the Park program, traveling through the five boroughs and performing at no cost in libraries, prisons, cafeterias, and every other venue with a functioning light switch. Just coming off its tour of the city, The Winter's Tale is now sitting down for a three-week stint in the Public's LuEsther Hall and giving some of New York's more regular theatergoers a taste of the scrappy charm that a high-budget production could never replicate.
Lee Sunday Evans directs a tight ensemble of nine through the story of paranoia, distrust, and ultimate redemption. King Leontes of Sicilia (a commanding Justin Cunningham) is erroneously convinced that his wife, Hermione (Stacey Yen), has been unfaithful to him with King Polixenes of Bohemia (Nicholas Hoge) and rejects the child she bears because of it (Yen later delivers a powerful rendition of Hermione's courtroom speech in which she defends her honor). The child she bears is Perdita (a sweet performance by Ayana Workman), who, after being abandoned on the coast of Bohemia by Antigonus (Christopher Ryan Grant), is saved by a shepherd (also played by Grant, who whirls onstage in a fresh costume after performing Shakespeare's famous stage direction "exit, pursued by a bear").
Raised in Bohemia for 16 years as a shepherd's daughter (though her caretaker is aware of her noble roots thanks to a box filled with gold that was left beside her as a baby), Perdita falls in love with King Polixeses's son Florizel (an unapologetically lovestruck Chris Myers). It seems like a mismatch, but the truth eventually gets sorted out in time for a happy ending, which includes the resurrection of Hermione, whose body has been saved by the noblewoman Paulina (an excellent Patrena Murray) in the form of a statue for all these tragic years.
Scene transitions are smoothed over with lulling musical interludes composed by Heather Christian and sung by the ensemble; a couple of tables and movable pillars make up a sufficient set (economically designed by Mariana Sanchez); and Evans follows up the play's first three acts of dour drama with refreshingly light comedic direction. The partnership of Grant and Nina Grollman (Young Shepherd to Grant's Old Shepherd) is particularly delightful as they romp around the stage like a pair of jovial hicks. Sathya Sridharan also makes for an excellent Camillo, the confidant in the middle of all the misunderstandings, who shifts from the high drama of his assignment to murder Polixenes in the first half of the play to his farcical adventures at a sheep-shearing feast with Polixenes 16 years later (both disguised in ridiculous fake beards to spy on Perdita and Prince Florizel).
Bargain basement meets refined Shakespeare, and it's that joyful combination that makes The Winter's Tale not only something everyone can see, but something everyone should see.