King Leontes becomes so convinced his pregnant wife, Queen Hermione, has cheated on him that in a fit of passion and tyrannical delusion he has her arrested for treason. As she awaits trial, she gives birth to their daughter in the ominous beginning of Shakespeare's The Winter's Tale, presented by The NOLA Project in the Great Hall at the New Orleans Museum of Art (NOMA).
As King of Sicily, Leontes (Sean Glazebrook) wields unchecked power. He has a "feeling" that Hermione (Kristin Witterschein) slept with the King of Bohemia, Polixenes (Graham Burk). The ordeal upsets her son Mamillius (Thomas LaGrange) so much that he dies. Paulina (Monica R. Harris) defends the queen's honor, but it's no use and Hermione dies during the trial.
Glazebrook gives an intense performance, and at moments it seems that time stops — with the set washed in red light — and the king talks to himself like a madman. Glazebrook plays up Leontes' paranoia, but some restraint may have worked better — Leontes isn't a sympathetic character. Witterschein is resolute and regal, and her monologue about morality is a standout moment.
Director A.J. Allegra uses NOMA's space in a fun and engaging way. Characters ascend the grand staircase as they would in a palace and the action continues around the balcony. There is, however, some minor incongruity; in one scene, Mamilius plays on a cellphone, but modern technology isn't used again.
The Winter's Tale abruptly diverts into comedic territory in the second act. An old shepherd (James Bartelle) and his son (Chris Marroy) found the abandoned royal daughter, Perdita (Julia DeLois), in the woods and raised her. With mannerisms and a shaky voice, Bartelle animates the old shepherd convincingly — and he even breakdances. Marroy has excellent comedic timing and is lovable and goofy.
As an adult, Perdita falls in love with Florizel (Khiry Armstead), who happens to be the son of King Polixenes. The two want to get married but their apparent disparate social classes make it difficult.
At a party to celebrate the couple, the large cast comes together around what looks like a maypole to dance in an energetic and memorable sequence. The pick-pocketing Autolycus (Michael Krikorian) sings like a pop star and is hilarious in his delivery. King Polixenes goes to the party in disguise and confronts his son, which ultimately leads to Perdita being reunited with her father Leontes, who's been depressed since his wife died. The work takes a magical turn and all the characters must deal with their pasts.
Unfortunately, the tragic and comic elements pull the work in different directions and the production comes off as uneven despite strong contributions in both acts.