Best for Winter undergoes a late thaw | Theater Review | Chicago Reader

Best for Winter undergoes a late thaw 

A simple, elegant Shakespeare adaptation

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Steven Townshend

Though advertised as an adaption of William Shakespeare's The Winter's Tale by Evan Jackson (who also directs), this production by Idle Muse Theatre is, for all practical purposes, a fairly faithful, if slimmed-down, version of Shakespeare's play with a couple of his sonnets thrown in for good measure. Jackson's simple, elegant production is well suited to the intimacy of the Edge Theater's performing space.

As in the original, there is a major shift in tone halfway through the tale, from somber psychological drama to lighthearted comedy, as the story turns from King Leontes, whose pathological jealousy leads to his wife's death, to a romance that blossoms between his exiled daughter and a handsome prince. Jackson's cast handles this potentially awkward change fairly well, though Brian Bengtson is too emotionally restrained to be fully convincing as the unhinged Leontes. The same holds for Mara Kovacevic's icy performance as Hermione, the faithful wife accused of adultery: the lady doth protest too little.

Things warm up in the second half. They almost always do in productions of The Winter's Tale, in part because the story is sweeter, more like a fairy tale than a tragedy, and it has a life-affirming ending. The performances in the second half of the current production feel more relaxed and playful. Kristen Alesia and Brian Healy are delightful as the young lovers, and Michael Dalberg earns lots of laughs as the trickster and con man Autolycus.

Joshua Allard's costumes, Milo Bue's scenic design, and L.J. Luthringer's sound and music design all complement the production without upstaging the performances or the Bard's language.   v

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