NEW YORK (AP) -- "The Winter's Tale" is a strangely schizophrenic play, but director Sam Mendes has found the heart in this odd Shakespearean romance and made its disparate pieces work.
He has directed the production, now on view at the Brooklyn Academy of Music's Harvey Theatre, with elegance, skillfully weaving its strands of tragedy and comedy into a blissfully satisfying theatrical whole.
Much of the play's first half is high-tone domestic drama, dealing with the consequences of all-consuming jealousy, personified by Leontes, king of Sicilia. And when the raging over suspected infidelity is done by the incomparable Simon Russell Beale, you know the fuming will be royal indeed.
The actor has a way of making everything sound perfectly clear and logical, here ticking off why Leontes thinks his queen (a gracious, giving Rebecca Hall) is having an affair with his good friend Polixenes, king of Bohemia, played by the stalwart Josh Hamilton.
Out of this triangle comes the rest of the improbable plot, much of it filled with comic, cavorting rustics, most memorably an Old Shepherd, portrayed by the delightfully gleeful Richard Easton, his dimwitted son (Tobias Segal) and an unrepentant charlatan played by an amusing Ethan Hawke. He's a guitar-strumming peddler who schemes and seduces while he sings and sells.
What brings these stories together is a blossoming of young love, uniting the children of the two monarchs in a finale that celebrates forgiveness tinged with more than a dollop of regret.
That this joyful reunion comes about because of an outlandish bit of hocus-pocus is no matter, particularly when the magic is overseen by a character played by the commanding, ever-resourceful Sinead Cusack. Willing suspension of disbelief is required for enjoying a fantasy such as "The Winter's Tale."
That disbelief is set against the backdrop of designer Anthony Ward's fanciful settings and Paul Pyant's evocative, often striking lighting. For the opening scene, Pyant has create what looks like a galaxy of twinkling votive candles, giving the playing area a kind of redemptive, cathedral-like feel.
After all the travails, redemption — and those lights — return for the play's required happy ending as a long separated family is reunited. Forgiveness is the balm that soothes just about every major tragedy in this play.
Mendes' production is the second offering of The Bridge Project, his trans-Atlantic theater company featuring mostly British and American actors. The troupe is in residence at BAM through March 8 before setting off on a world tour.
"The Winter's Tale" is running in rep with Chekhov's "The Cherry Orchard," a rueful comedy about the melancholy end of an era in pre-revolutionary Russia. Together, these two plays say a lot about the ability of the human condition to adapt — or not — to the most startling of occurrences.
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