In the final act of Shakespeare’s “The Winter’s Tale,” there’s a magical moment that offers a disgraced king one last chance for happiness. It’s not exactly a Christmas miracle, but there’s definitely a sense of compassion and generosity befitting the spirit of the holidays.
“It’s a Scrooge story, in a very Shakespearean, dramatic way,” said A.J. Allegra, artistic director of the NOLA Project and director of “The Winter’s Tale,” to be presented Dec. 1-20 in the Great Hall at the New Orleans Museum of Art.
The play begins as Leontes, king of Sicilia, flies into a jealous rage when he suspects his pregnant wife of having an affair with his childhood friend, Polixenes, king of Bohemia. In an unsettling fit of madness, Leontes (played by Sean Glazebrook) exiles his wife (Kristin Witterschein) from the court.
Meanwhile, Polixenes (Graham Burk) and several of Leontes’ loyal subjects flee Sicilia for the safety of Bohemia, where the play jumps ahead in time to focus on the wedding of Polixenes’ son, complete with the kinds of misunderstandings and mistaken identities typical of Shakespeare’s romantic comedies.
By the end of the play, the two plots converge through a series of mishaps, which leads to an unexpected twist on the conventional happily-ever-after ending.
“I love the message that even someone who has sinned so badly still has the chance for redemption,” said Glazebrook of his character Leontes.
The shifting styles, locations and time periods can make “The Winter’s Tale” a difficult production to tackle, but Allegra said it also provides opportunities for creative solutions.
The NOLA Project has earned a reputation for imaginative, stylish shows, and the ensemble will take the same approach with “The Winter’s Tale.”
In his direction of “The Winter’s Tale,” Allegra’s initial impulse is to keep the action moving.
“The first thing I do, before the cast even comes into the picture, is cut the script,” said Allegra. “That may sound extreme or maybe sacrilegious, but people should know that 99.9 percent of Shakespeare is performed not as written, but cut. The Royal Shakespeare Company does a fair share of cutting itself.”
“The Winter’s Tale” is a long play, even by Shakespearean standards, so Allegra trimmed the five-act play into three, specifically targeting bits of confusing, overly antiquated language that might slow down the production.
To enhance the play’s visual appeal, costume designer Cecile Covert has outfitted the citizens of Sicilia in stark black and white, while Bohemia will have a tropical party atmosphere that Allegra likens to a Hawaiian pig roast.
The production will also be bolstered by original music from Jack Craft and Skylar Stroup of the local indie-pop band Sweet Crude.
Allegra calls the NOLA Project’s goal “Shakespeare for everyone.”
“Making sure that the pace is right, making sure that the audience is able to listen and comprehend everything, and then making sure it’s an enjoyable evening are all really important things for me,” he said.