Entirely Unexpected: Folger Theatre Opens Season with The Winter’s Tale

The cast of Folger Theatre’s The Winter’s Tale in a celebratory mood. On stage at the Folger Shakespeare Library, November 5 – December 17, 2023. Photo by Brittany Diliberto.

While it’s not yet fully re-opened to the public after renovation, Folger Shakespeare Library — home to the world’s largest Shakespeare collection — has welcomed visitors back to its award-winning historic stage with a performance that is entirely unexpected.

Hermione (Antoinette Crowe-Legacy, center) tries to make her husband Leontes (Hadi Tabbal, forefront) listen to reason. (Also pictured background L to R: Sabrina Lynne Sawyer, Stephen Patrick Martin, Nicholas Gerwitz.) Photo by Brittany Diliberto.

From the birthday party to start, and continuing with a rousing sing-along and a hoe-down (not to mention the famously odd stage direction, “Exit, pursued by a bear”) there is much to fascinate and flummox in this story. But blame Shakespeare, most of the latter is the fault of the author. The cast is incredible in this one.

The Winter’s Tale is a conundrum even for students of the Bard. It is included in his collections of comedies, though it contains arguably more lament than laughter. And since it is one of the least frequently produced of Shakespeare’s plays, many may wonder why it was chosen to open the season and inaugurate Folger’s new space.

“Our reopening season intentionally investigates the transformational power of stories, and I couldn’t think of a better play than The Winter’s Tale,” says Karen Ann Daniels, Folger Theatre Artistic Director.

The roguish peddler Autolycus (Reza Salazar) sings a happy tune in Folger Theatre’s The Winter’s Tale. Photo by Brittany Diliberto.

Transform it does. From steely Sicilia to bawdy Bohemia. From overflowing love to intense hatred. It’s a Shakespeare romance that smacks of complication, including complex relationships, friendly jealousies, consequences — and miracles.

You’ll want to bring a strong imagination to this one.

When Leontes (Hadi Tabbal) suspects his loyal wife Hermione (Antoinette Crowe-Legacy) of being unfaithful to him with his lifelong friend Polixenes (Drew Kopas), he is consumed by jealousy and begins to plot Polixenes’ murder. He also puts Hermione on trial, imprisons her, and casts out their infant daughter. Sixteen years later, the family is reunited through a series of roundabout revelations. Magnanimous forgiveness ensues.

And this is what, according to Director Tamilla Woodard, makes The Winter’s Tale a story of second chances that speaks to NOW. It takes our (and the characters’) inability to see beyond our own framing of events, growing paranoia, and other entrenchments and allows for an almost mystical opportunity to reconcile and change human nature.

That’s a rare sight to behold.

Music and dance at the sheep-shearing festival in Bohemia. Pictured L to R: Sabrina Lynne Sawyer, Reza Salazar, Kate Eastwood Norris; Kayleandra White, far right. Photo by Brittany Diliberto.

(And the chance to see inside the new Folger before it has officially reopened is a great reason to purchase a ticket, too!)

The Winter’s Tale marks the first production staged at the Folger Shakespeare Library on Capitol Hill since the historic building began renovations in March 2020, and will be on stage at the Folger through December 17, 2023, with a talented cast of DC and Broadway actors.

Tickets are available online or by calling the Folger Box Office at (202) 544-7077.

The Winter’s Tale is also part of the Shakespeare Everywhere Festival, in which Folger and other artistic and cultural institutions across the District are producing 12 Shakespeare shows in 12 weeks.