Eleven actors of varying ages and ethnicities stand in a line on the set of The Winter's Tale, which looks like gray-and-rust industrial steel. A Black actor in a brightly colored robe stands above them center.
The ensemble of Oak Park Festival Theatre's The Winter's Tale Credit: Josh Darr

This is a great play for the summer—despite its title—because The Winter’s Tale is as much about the coming of spring as it is the dreary desolation of December. At least that is what director Kevin Theis emphasizes in this high-spirited, lighthearted production. All that is positive, sweet, and redemptive in the play—the openhearted expressions of friendship, the warmhearted comic turns, the full-throttle romance in the second half—works like a charm. Georgia Dib and Brian Bradford are especially winning as the play’s young lovers. In contrast, the darker moments in the play, in particular King Leontes’s murderous, paranoid jealousy, are not nearly as moving, or, oddly enough, even convincing. In the earlier, grimmer moments of the play Mark Lancaster never seems to get the pitch and tone of this character right; sometimes he seems too angry, at other times not angry enough. 

The Winter’s Tale
Through 8/20: Thu-Sat 8 PM, Sun 7 PM; open caption performances Thu-Sat, Austin Gardens, 167 Forest Ave., Oak Park, 708-300-9396, oakparkfestival.com, $38

Yet Lancaster feels utterly at home—and perfectly cast—in the play’s happier, more positive moments near the end. The armchair psychologist in me wonders if there is a connection between the focus in this production on redemption and new growth, and the theater’s tragedy last fall—a devastating fire that destroyed 50 years of records, props, costumes, and light, sound, and office equipment—and their recent so-far-successful struggles to rise from the ashes. Certainly, this joyous production gives us hope of many more productions to come. 

Editor’s Note: An earlier version of this review misidentified the character of King Leontes and the actor who portrays him. That role is played by Mark Lancaster, not David Gordon-Johnson. We regret the error.