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Old Globe's sumptuous 'Winter's Tale' rounds out fine summer of Shakespeare

With "The Winter's Tale," it's almost as if Shakespeare wrote two plays, completely at odds in mood and theme but whose storylines and characters weave together. It is that strange mix of tragedy and comedy that Shakespeare played with in his final works, including "Cymbeline," "Pericles" and "The Tempest."

[IMAGE=winters_tale.jpg CAPTION=The Bohemian king (Tom Hammond) and Sicilian queen (Katie MacNichol) are wrongly accused as lovers as the jealous husband (Bruce Turk) looks on suspiciously, in The Globe Theatre's production of "The Winter's Tale."

The Old Globe's production of "The Winter's Tale," directed by Darko Tresnjak, is sumptuous, mesmerizing and funny. From consistently strong performances to the elegant Regency-era costumes to Tresnjak's simple, effective set, this "Tale" is sure to move and delight.

The first half is tragedy all the way, when a Sicilian king suspects his gracious and very pregnant wife of sexual misconduct with his closest friend, the king of Bohemia. The queen is jailed and publicly tried and convicted. Lovely Katie MacNichol as the dishonored queen maintains her innocence in a graceful and moving performance.

But the king is his own Iago, as is later confirmed by the Oracle with a boom of thunder and streak of lightning. The king learns too late of his mistakes -- his wife and son are dead, and newborn daughter lost. Bruce Turk turns in a fine performance of enraged jealousy that shows more complexity than mere anger or madness, and his later penitence is affecting.

Kandis Chappell also shines in her role as friend to the queen and conscience of the king, running the emotional gamut from incensed and defiant to compassionate and supplicating.

Linda Cho's superb costumes reflect the somber and stately tone of the tragedy.

And now, for something completely different -- the Bard does an about face in the second half, taking us to the whimsical, comic world of Bohemia. This is prefaced by what Tresnjak calls the most famous stage direction in all of Shakespeare: "Exit, pursued by bear." The oversized, cutout of a bear's face that swallows one of the characters is a goofy prologue to the comedy to come following intermission.

Presiding over the entire play is Edelen McWilliams in the chorus-like role of Time, looking positively Grecian in white gown and long tresses. She explains the jump 16 years into the future, where an old shepherd has found and raised the king's discarded baby girl as his own.

To contrast with the mood and palette of Sicily, Bohemia gushes with springtime color and pastoral diversion. Cho's lively costumes here echo the play's theme of regeneration and reconciliation.

As with other Shakespearean comedies, there's music, dancing, characters incognito and frivolity. The switch gives Charles Janasz an understated and thoroughly successful turn at comedy, and Evan Zes provides great fun as a lovable pickpocket and conman.

The prince of Bohemia falls in love with the shepherd's daughter, who doesn't know of her noble birth, and after a lot of plot twists and scheming the whole lot end up back in Sicily for a joyful reunion. But we only learn of the reunion secondhand, through gossip from minor characters. Shakespeare's true climax is saved for the final scene, staged masterfully -- and given a supernatural interpretation -- by Tresnjak with the marble statue of the Sicilian queen reclining in the lap of Time. All is set right as the death and tragedy of winter gives way to the rebirth of spring.

"The Winter's Tale" adds another strong production to the trio of outdoor plays in the Globe's Summer Shakespeare Festival. The tragicomedy balances out the zany slapstick of "Comedy of Errors" and the dark brutality of "Macbeth," and gives theatergoers much to look forward to in the Globe's recently renewed tradition of summer Shakespeare.

PROGRAM: "The Winter's Tale," by William Shakespeare, directed by Darko Tresnjak

Organization: The Old Globe

Tickets: $19-$55

Dates: Through Oct. 2

Show times: Tuesdays through Sundays at 8 p.m., in nightly rotation with "Macbeth" and "The Comedy of Errors"

Location: Lowell Davies Festival Theatre, The Old Globe, Balboa Park

More information: (619) 23-GLOBE, www.theglobetheatres.com

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