Maiden Phoenix’s ‘Winter’s Tale’ will enchant you

From the left: Juliet Bowler, Cassandra Meyer, Leilani Ricardo and Gail Shalan in "A Winter's Tale."

From the left: Juliet Bowler, Cassandra Meyer, Leilani Ricardo and Gail Shalan in “A Winter’s Tale.”

SOMERVILLE – You can tell how well-trained the actors in a theater troupe are by how they hold together during a performance in less-than-ideal conditions.

On a recent afternoon, a persistent mist/drizzle started to fall about a half-hour into a performance of Shakespeare’s “The Winter’s Tale” at Nathan Tufts Park.

After a brief interruption, the performance resumed and despite the persistent drizzle and mist for the next two hours, the focus, concentration, and enthusiasm of the players never wavered.

That was a tribute not only to the players of the Maiden Phoenix Theatre Company, but to director Sarah Gazdowicz, who helmed a critically-acclaimed production of “The Farnsworth Invention” for Flat Earth Theatre in June.

There is no right or wrong way to play Shakespeare. In The Bard’s day it was all-male casts, but the ladies of the Maiden Phoenix Theatre Company have turned that on its head with an all-female cast, allowing the actresses to play parts they never would have been able to perform before.

Juliet Bowler and Mara Elisa Palma in "A Winter's Tale."

Juliet Bowler and Mara Elisa Palma in “A Winter’s Tale.”

The aforementioned actresses have picked up the ball and run with it, with most of the company playing dual roles – in many cases, starkly different roles – confidently and skillfully.

Juliet Bowler assumes the mantle of Leontes, the king of Sicily and the friend since childhood of Polixenes (Kamela Dolinova), king of Bohemia. Polixenes, after a long stay in Sicily, is determined to return home.

Leontes’ queen Hermione (Cassandra Meyer) is devoted to their son, Mamillius (Caroline Rose Markham)

But uneasy lies the crown on the head of Leontes, who is mindful of the beauty of his queen and the effect it can have on others.

When Hermione convinces Polixenes to extend his stay in Sicily, Leontes becomes delusional, assuming the only way his pregnant wife could get Polixenes to stay is by offering sexual favors.

The king enlists his loyal friend, nobleman Camillo (Mara Elisa Palma) to poison Polixenes; he instead warns Polixenes and the two flee back to Bohemia.

An enraged Leontes vents his rage at his queen and at what he calls “the bastard child” she is bearing and throws her in prison, despite the protests of the nobles.

He sends two lords to the Oracle at Delphi to confirm his suspicions..

After the queen gives birth to a daughter in prison, Hermione’s friend Paulina (Gail Shalan) brings the child to Leontes, hoping for a change of heart, but he orders Paulina’s husband Lord Antigonus (April Singley) to take the child away to a desolate place and abandon it.

The lords return with the news that the Oracle has proclaimed the innocence of Hermione and Polixenes, found Camillo to be an honest man, and that the king will have no heir until his daughter is found.

Leontes refuses to believe the ruling, and soon learns his son has died from a disease brought on by his mother’s turmoil. Hermione faints at the news of her son’s death and is soon dead herself.

The stunned, chastened king is left to ponder the human wreckage he has brought onto himself and vows to repent.

The Winter’s Tale” changes course abruptly from being as dark as night to more light-hearted and upbeat.

The doomed, noble Antigonus, who has pleaded for the life of the King’s daughter, delivers her to the desolate coast of Bohemia, where he meets a grisly end as he is devoured by a bear. But Singley then springs gloriously back to life to take over the role of the Old Shepherd who finds Leontes’ daughter Perdita – and the gold that signifies her noble birth – and raises her as his own alongside his own son (Cassandra Meyer).

Maiden Phoenix has taken advantage of the topography of Nathan Tufts Park and its interesting features. In Act 1, which is set in Sicily, the action takes place in front of a stone tower, which provides cover for players and a backdrop to the action.

For Act II, which takes place 16 years later, the play moves around the corner in the park, where a stone wall and rocky outcroppings in another area act as natural stages for the scenes in Bohemia. In Act II Camillo longs to return to Sicily but Polixenes entreats him to stay and help him because his son, Prince Florizel (Caroline Rose Markham in a dual role), has fallen in love with a lowly shepherd girl: Perdita (Leilani Ricardo), whose charm and beauty defy her simple lineage.

He suggests to Camillo that he delay his return and aid Polixenes, disguising themselves and attending the sheep-shearing feast, who has prospered thanks to the gold left with Perdita, where Florizel and Perdita will be betrothed.

There are nice second-act acting turns by Sarah Mass as Autolycus, the roguish, bawdy peddlar and pickpocket who plays a key role in the eventual union of Florizel and Perdita.

There will be reunions, forgiveness and even a beloved queen come back to life on the way to a joyous ending.

Kiki Samko has contributed movement appropriate for the era and the production’s music director, Jeff Butcher, also adds some nice touches .

Director Gazdowicz moves the piece briskly along and the troupe stays en pointe throughout.

The final performances of “The Winter’s Tale” will be free this weekend (through Aug. 30), but donations are accepted. Maiden Phoenix is a Somerville-based theater troupe dedicated to giving opportunities to female artists by having at least 51 percent female involvements in all aspects of a production while also focusing “on plays that tell women’s stories: past, present and future.”

The weather for the upcoming weekend is forecast to be lovely. Bring a picnic lunch and a drink, sit back on your lawn chair or blanket in the peaceful park, and enjoy Maiden Phoenix’s carefully and lovingly wrought production of one of Shakespeare’s more interesting pieces.

The Maiden Phoenix Theatre Company production of William Shakespeare’s “The Winter’s Tale.” Directed by Sarah Gazdowicz. Costume design by Norma Heller. Lighting consultant Ben Lieberman. Scenic/props design by Kat Nakaji. Stage manager Elizabeth Ramirez. Photography: Tanner Tinso Production manager Julie Streeter. At Nathan Tufts Park, College Avenue, Somerville, through Aug. 30.