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BWW Review: The Public Theater's Mobile Unit Offers A Free THE WINTER'S TALE


Before every performance by The Public Theater's Mobile Unit, the audience is reminded of Joseph Papp's credo that the plays of William Shakespeare belong to everyone. The theatre pioneer created the world-famous Shakespeare In The Park based on that simple philosophy, and it's the driving force behind this unique outreach branch helping to fulfill the historic company's mission.

The Winter's Tale
Stacey Yen, Chris Myers, and Nina Grollman
(Photo: Carol Rosegg)

The compact productions, always featuring a small company of actors performing texts trimmed to about 100 minutes, bring the bard's classics to populations who cannot attend at Central Park's Delacorte Theater, by touring prisons, nursing homes, community centers and shelters throughout the five boroughs before settling into The Public for a limited run.

Many of their audience members have never attended a live professional theatre production before, so one of the intriguing elements for seasoned attendees is to try and see the performance through the eyes of someone serving time on Riker's Island or seeking safety in a shelter for battered women.

Director Lee Sunday Evans directs a straightforward, modern-dress production of THE WINTER'S TALE, played by a fine ensemble.

Justin Cunningham makes a powerful presence as King Leontes of Sicilia, whose jealousy gets the best of him when he becomes convinced that his pregnant wife Hermione (equally powerful Stacey Yen) has been carrying on with his good buddy King Polixenes of Bohemia (Nicholas Hoge) and insists that the child she carries is evidence.

The Winter's Tale
Justin Cunningham and Nicholas Hoge
(Photo: Carol Rosegg)

The baby is abandoned to Bohemia, where she's discovered and raised by a shepherd. Named Perdita (Ayana Workman), at age 16 the child falls for Polixenes' son Florizel Chris Myers), and their unlikely romance just might bring the two kings back together.

Comical breaks in the serious drama are supplied by Christopher Ryan Grant and Nina Grollman, who play a pair of shepherds as merry rural hicks, and Sathya Sridharan as Leontes' droll confidant Camillo. Patrena Murray delivers plenty of moxie as noblewoman Paulina.

Also adding a bit of lightness is having Leontes and Hermione's son, Mamillius, represented by a charming puppet designed by James Ortiz and voiced by Myers with a sweet child's voice. Ortiz also does a great job creating a bear to execute the play's most famous stage direction.

In past years, tickets for the Mobile Unit's Public Theater performances have been sold for a modest price, but with THE WINTER'S TALE, all seats can be had for free. Mr. Papp surely would have approved.

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