Every July the First Folio Theatre in Oak Brook gives the Chicago theater audience a wonderful treat with their annual “Shakespeare Under the Stars” production. This year they are performing TheWinter’s Tale, a classic Shakespeare tragicomedy that is a story of love, jealousy, and the price of both. It is a celebration of faith and redemption, holding on and letting go, and the transcendent power of love. The Winter’s Tale is one of Shakespeare’s final works and considered one of his best.
The story begins as King Leontes of Sicilia (Kevin McKillip) begs his childhood friend, King Polixenes of Bohemia (Kevin Theis) to extend his visit to Sicilia. Polixenes protests that he has been away from his kingdom for nine months and must depart. Leontes asks his pregnant wife, Hermione (Melissa Carlson), to change his mind, and he relents, agreeing to stay a little longer. Leontes cannot understand how his friend refused him but was so easily persuaded by his wife and becomes filled with jealousy, convinced that his friend and wife are lovers.
This sets the stage for what Shakespeare is famous for, as the insanely jealous King Leontes spirals down the funnel of life from happiness to pain and takes us with him. This is a complicated plot and Hayley Rice, has done an excellent job of editing this 5 act play into a 2 hour, 2 act play, and worked very carefully to develop the complex character of King Leontes. Kevin Mckillip shows great skill in portraying the tormented king. But more cruelty is afoot as Hermoine is imprisoned and her daughter abandoned. Melissa Carlson is wonderful in the role of Hermoine and demonstrates strength and vulnerability as her world is diminished.
The story unfolds with more tragedy before we are pulled back from the well of anguish and brought to the peak of joy. It is a bevy of characters that bring us to that place led by Paulina (Diana Coates in a strong performance), Hermoines loyal friend who somehow keeps the depressed king steady for 16 years before helping him find happiness once again. Leontes’ ever faithful lord Camillio (deftly played by Kyle Haden) brings the two old friends back together. And Polixenes’ son, Florizel ( an energetic Ryan Czerwonko) whose love and devotion for Perdita (Anne Marie White) give everyone a reason to feel happiness in the end. Kevin Theis, as King Polixenes, provides energy and humor as he shows compassion and forgives his friend. Michael Joseph Mitchell, as Antigonus, is a serious and loyal character who saves Pedita but meets a tragic fate in the jaws of a bear. The rest of this talented troupe, Lex Alioto, Chris Grella, Derek Jeck, Joe Matyas , and Chelsea Rolfes add depth and dimension to this layered story.
This production is sharply directed by Allison C. Vesely and Hayley Rice and moves quickly from scene to scene. The set by Angela Weber Miller is simple but effective and the lighting by Michael McNamara is well conceived. The period costumes by Rachel Lambert fit perfectly to the story and Christopher Kriz’s original music and sound design blend nicely with each scene. Overall, this is Shakespeare at his best and First Folio at its best. In the end, you will be glad you were here!
There is probably no better way to see Shakespeare than on a pleasant summer evening under the stars on the outdoor stage at the Mayslake Peabody Estate. What a setting; towering trees green lawns, and a really fine speaker system. Bring a blanket, bring lawn chairs, and have a picnic before the play, it is a truly wonderful experience.
“The Winter’s Tale” runs through August 9, 2015. All performances take place at the Mayslake Peabody Estate, located at 1717 W 31st St., off Rt. 83, in Oak Brook at 8:15 PM on Wednesdays through Sundays. First Folio is easy to get to from via the East-West Tollway (I-88) or the Stevenson Expressway (I-55). Free parking is available on the grounds. Regular priced tickets are $29 Wednesdays and Thursdays (seniors and students are $25), and $39 on Fridays through Sundays (seniors and students are $35). Tickets may be purchased by calling the box office at 630-986-8067 or online at www.firstfolio.org.
To see what others are saying, visit www.theatreinchicago.com, go to Review Round-up and click at “The Winter’s Tale”