Riverside Theatre performs Shakespeare’s ‘The Winter’s Tale’

Riverside Theatre brought six nights of free Shakespeare to City Park, this time with a comedy-meets-tragedy.


Jeff Sigmund

King Leontes, played by Martin Andrews, acts out a scene from the play “The Winters Tale” on Saturday, July 17, 2021. The Shakespeare play was put on by Riverside Theatre.

Maddie Johnston, Arts Editor

Sunday evening in City Park was a merry and warm one, as groups of Iowa City denizens gathered at Riverside Theatre’s festival stage and its surrounding lawn to catch Riverside’s final performance of Shakespeare’s “The Winter’s Tale.”

The free event attracted large crowds every night of its two-weekend production, and Sunday night was no different. Pre-show activities drew in children and families to the picnic across from the theater, and lines for ice cream bars stretched long as people waited in anticipation.

As folks settled into their spots before the show’s start, there was a resounding feeling of gratitude in the air. Old friends shook hands and bonded over finally getting back to in-person theater.

When Riverside’s artistic director and actor Adam Knight took the stage and spoke of this long-awaited return to in-person theater, a thunderous applause followed, and then began the two-and-a-half-hour production of “The Winter’s Tale.”

Off the bat, the show introduces the play’s protagonist, Leontes, king of Sicilia, whose best friend, Polixenes, king of Bohemia, has come to Sicilia for a nine-month visit. Once Leontes begins to suspect Polixenes and his wife, Hermione, have formed a secret relationship, he is overtaken by jealousy. The rest of the play follows in the aftermath of his irrational actions.

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Leontes’ erratic and childish nature was captured perfectly by actor Martin Andrews, who used each soliloquy to draw the audience into his wild fits of rage and absurd plan to imprison his pregnant wife and kill Polixenes. Hermione, also known as actress Jessica Link, held true to her strength and dignity as her husband’s accusations caused suffering to her and her unborn child.

There to call out the king on all of his unfounded actions was the audacious Paulina, played by actress Crystal Stewart, who offered consistent realness and a surprisingly feminist twist to the 16th century play. Stewart added a level of depth and empathy to her character that made her one of the most likeable in the play.

Without giving too much away, the first half of the play ends quite sadly in the shadow of Leontes’ fury in the midst of a massive thunderstorm. As if on cue, the sun dimmed in City Park and the wind picked up. When audience members returned from intermission for the second part of the play, the set had been transformed into the festive and liberal Bohemia.

Quite different from the frigid set of Sicilia, the Bohemia set was appropriately adorned by green vines, fairy lights, flowers, and fake sheep. The characters in Bohemia dressed in colorful, loose-fitting clothing, and held a more jovial disposition than in that of Sicilia.

Whatever tragedy Leontes inflicts on the other characters in the first half of the play, Autolycus, played by actor Patrick Dulaney, is there to balance out with comedy by the second half. Dulaney was a definite crowd favorite, whose silly antics and willingness to let it all hang out (for those who saw the show — you know what I mean) had the crowd rife with belly laughs and knee slaps.

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Overall, the play was happy, sad, funny, surprising, and most shockingly, had a happy ending.

As with all his plays, there is something contagious about the nature of Shakespeare, and this affection is only amplified by the setting of Riverside’s amphitheater and its high-spirited actors and actresses.

For those looking to enjoy a night of fresh air, good company, and grown men overusing the word “bosom,” look no further than a weekend of Shakespeare at the park. In just two weeks, Riverside Theatre will suit up for its next round of free Shakespeare, this time with the farcical, “The Comedy of Errors.”

More information about the next show can be found on the company’s website.