Winter, yeah. Discontent, no.
"A Winter's Tale" is a magical play, if not one of Shakespeare's A-list plays. The first act has the darkness of Othello and King Lear. The second act is light-hearted and goofy, like As You Like It and Twelfth Night. It feels like two different plays.
Director Michael Edwards staged it that way, and it works brilliantly. The first act is an ice pick to the brain exploring jealousy, paranoia and angry gods. At the act's end, Shakespeare pulls his royal-baby-washed-up-on-a-beach trick and kills the witnesses. We get the famous stage direction:
Exit, pursued by bear.
The second act exchanges cruel Sicilia for hippy-dippy Bohemia, where bucolic shepherds wear flowers in their hair and dance to the tune of "Good Morning Starshine." The tone totally changes — and by now, we need it. Shakespeare seems to realize his big climax is a cliche — and instead of showing you, has the servants relate it in the hall. Brilliant, but I guess I'm not the first one to say it. As long as he's giving you a happy ending, he brings the dead queen from the first act back from the dead, disguised as a painted statue.
I loved it, even if I didn't quite buy it. (My guess is this is early, experimental Shakespeare, though the scholars aren't sure.) Call it Bollywood Shakespeare — something for everybody, tragedy, comedy, dancing, singing, hungry bears, you name it. This production adds Einstein in the Lunar Excursion Module, explaining what happened in the 16-year intermission. I assume, he wasn't in the original draft, but I loved that, too.
The actors had fun, and the audience did too. Brent Bateman is a hoot as the con-artist Autolycus -- kind of a cross between the Skipper on Gilligan's Island and the fat Elvis. Dan Donohue's mentally unhinged Leontes proves once again he's a talent to watch. Kris Danford is touching as Leontes' resurrected wife. David Breitbarth has a lot of range as Leontes estranged brother, Polixenes. Mercedes Herrero is riveting as a self-appointed conscience to Leontes. Heather Kelley and Kevin O'Callaghan are comically clueless as two royal lovebirds. (If a prince falls for a princess who doesn't know she's a princess, that makes it OK.)
It's a long play — one that goes all over the map. When it's over, you don't want it to be. In the right hands, Shakespeare's magic still works.