That's a nearly impossible task.
Jason Merrill nails it.
That's partially because Merrill isn't left to carry that task by himself. Leontes is surrounded by honorable, decent people with integrity, who believe that their king is better than he shows himself. And when those characters are played believably -- played as people who are smart, perceptive, and decent -- we as the audience are willing to accept that, perhaps, their opinions might have merit. So long as Leontes is played so that such a thing COULD be possible.
It's a very difficult task, and it requires Camillo (Joshua Nicholson) and Antigonus (Doug Miller) to be spot-on, as well. Leontes' monstrosity in giving both of those men unbearable tasks is met by those characters' integrity and love of their king -- which, when done right, leaves the audience somehow believing in both the king's monstrosity and his worthiness of their love.
The set, lighting, and sound design help, too. Sicily is present as bare and austere, with harsh, cold lighting, Bohemia, in earth tones -- browns and yellows, with warm light.
And the music deserves a mention or two. We didn't buy the CD of the music Michael J Veloso wrote for it, but now I'm thinking that maybe I should have.
We've seen The Winter's Tale three times now, and two of the productions were good. And, of those two -- Actors' Shakespeare Project and Theatre@First -- I think I liked this one somewhat better.
Thursday April 30 8:00pm
Friday May 1 8:00pm
Saturday May 2 8:00pm
Unity Church of God
6 William Street, Somerville, MA 02144