March comes in like a lion and out like a lamb, and the same could be said for Shakespeare’s romantic The Winter’s Tale, which opens here at Folger Theatre next month. Starting in the kingdom of Sicilia, the play begins as a dark exploration of paranoid jealousy, only to open up to pastoral celebration and miraculous reunion in the second half. While we’ll have to wait to the see the production on the Folger stage, we can introduce you to the talented cast who is currently rehearsing this romantic story of suspicion and redemption.
The Royal Family of Sicilia
Our story begins with a picture of familial bliss, with King Leontes and a very pregnant Queen Hermione entertaining Leontes’ childhood friend. Leontes is played by Michael Tisdale, whose career includes appearances at Studio Theatre, Theatre for a New Audience, and the Huntington, as well as in television and film. A double-threat, Tisdale is also an accomplished playwright who has worked with Atlantic Theater Company, NYU, Hartford Stage, and Lincoln Center Theater Directors’ Lab, among others. Katie deBuys is a Folger favorite, having appeared here in Henry V, The Gaming Table, and The Conference of the Birds.
Leontes and Hermione take great joy in their son Mamillius, who will be magically rendered as a puppet, created by Aaron Cromie and operated by Daven Ralston. Ralston then takes on the role of the lost princess, Perdita. Ralston will be familiar to Folger audiences from her roles as LeBeau and Hymen in last season’s As You Like It.
The source of Leontes’ jealousy is his best friend Polixenes, the ruler of Bohemia. Polixenes is played by Aldo Billingslea, whose Shakespeare bona-fides include productions of Othello, Cymbeline, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and Richard III at theaters from Oregon Shakespeare Festival to Utah Shakespearean. He is also a Professor of Theatre Arts at Santa Clara University in Santa Clara, California.
Once warned of his friend’s jealousy, Polixenes hurries back to Bohemia, where the second half of the play takes place. It is there we meet his son, Florizell, played by Drew Drake. Drake is another new face at the Folger, coming to us after working with such places as Clarence Brown Theatre, River and Rail Theatre, and Westcoast Black Theatre.
Florizell is in love with Perdita, who came to Bohemia as an exiled infant and was subsequently raised by the Old Shepherd, played by Richard R. Henry who was last seen as Peter Quince in 2016’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream (also directed by Aaron Posner). His son, Young Shepherd, is played by Josh Thomas, who comes to us from Studio Theatre and the Baltimore Shakespeare Factory. Thomas is also one of the many musicians who is working on the music that will be performed live during the production.
One of the tragedies of The Winter’s Tale is Leontes’ decision to cling to his jealousy despite those around him protesting Hermione’s innocence. Chief among her champions is the strong-willed Paulina, who risks her own life to stand up for the Queen and newborn princess. She is played by Grace Gonglewski, whose career has taken her to theaters including Arena Stage, Walnut Street Theatre, Flea Theatre, and ten seasons with the Pennsylvania Shakespeare Festival, but never to the Folger—until now!
Paulina is married to Antigonus, who famously exits the play pursued by…well, you know (or will soon find out). Folger alum Eric Hissom (Timon of Athens and A Midsummer Night’s Dream, among others) will be the actor following Shakespeare’s most famous stage direction, but he will remain a strong presence throughout the production, as he is also playing Camillo.
Rogues and Revelers
Though often at the Folger for Taffety Punk’s bootlegs, this will only be Kimberly Gilbert‘s second appearance with Folger Theatre (the first was Othello). She plays Autolycus, a Bohemian peddlar, pick-pocket, and rogue who previously serve Prince Florizell and is always on the look-out for ways to regain the crown’s favor (or make a quick profit). Autolycus finds eager customers at the sheep-shearing feast, chief among them Folger newcomers Liz Filios and Emily Kaye Lynn, whose many roles include the shepherdesses vying for Young Shepherd’s attention. Filios is composing the music for the production, in collaboration with cast members—there is more on Filios’ influences and inspirations for the production to come.
Stay tuned for more peeks at Folger Theatre’s The Winter’s Tale, which begins performances on Tuesday, March 13. For tickets and more information, visit us online or call the Folger Box Office at 202.544.7077.