One of the last plays William Shakespeare wrote, “The Winter’s Tale” also is one of his most extraordinary — moving from tragedy to pastoral romp to transcendent magic act.

King Leontes of Sicilia seemingly destroys his entire family by inexplicably accusing his innocent queen of adultery. After this catastrophic start, the play shifts locales and leaps ahead 16 years, focusing on the king’s abandoned daughter who — unaware of her true identity — holds the key to a series of unexpected reconciliations, culminating in one of the most famous revelations in theater history.

The Theatre Arts program of the Oregon Center for the Arts at Southern Oregon University will present a production of “The Winter’s Tale” at 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, May 21-23 and May 28-30, and 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, May 30-31, in the Center Stage Theatre on the Southern Oregon University campus, 1250 Siskiyou Blvd., Ashland. 

Tickets cost $21, $18 for seniors and $6 for students, and can be purchased at the box office in the SOU Music Recital Hall lobby, online at oca.sou.edu/box-office, or by calling 541-552-6348.

SOU sets its production in an abstract ancient setting, modeled after Arthurian Britain, and plays up the importance of women in orchestrating the play’s sublime finale. The play’s middle section, set at a pastoral sheep-shearing festival, will feature live Celtic music performed by multi-instrumentalists Kevin Carr and Pat O’Scannell.

“The play was relatively unappreciated for centuries,” says production dramaturg Laura Beresford. “Scholars and directors both sort of re-discovered it in the 1970s. Just like that, it became clear to everyone that ‘The Winter’s Tale’ is one of Shakespeare’s greatest achievements.” 

One such production in the '70s took place at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. Directed by Audrey Stanley and starring James Edmondson as Leontes, it made a big impact on David McCandless, who directs the SOU production.

“I was quite young at the time, but by the time the show was over I knew that I wanted to be involved in making theater,” McCandless says. He grew up in Medford and has returned to the Rogue Valley after stints as a professor at University of California at Berkeley and Carleton College. He's in his fifth year as professor of theater arts and director of Shakespeare studies at SOU.

His most recent endeavors include direction of playwright Adam Rapp's drama “The Metal Children,” “Invisible Threads” (which he also wrote) and “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.”

The large cast of the SOU production of "The Winter's Tale" includes Sarah Brizek, Nicole Bruno, Connor Bryant, Jon Cates, Connor Chaney, Caitlin Curtis, Wyeth Eliason, Truett Felt, Halli Gibson, Alice Glass, Cameron Gray, Jon Alan Hulbert, Valerie Huntington, Jamin Jollo, Galen Molk, Esau Mora, Scott Padian, Jacob Phillips, Nolan Sanchez, Kyle Sanderson, Henry Steelhammer, Martha Thatcher, Mig Windows and Aleah Zimmer.

Scenic designer is James Leyson, costume designer is Deborah Rosenberg, lighting designer is Mitch Weisbrod and sound designer is Noah Beauregard. Stage manager is J Ching, and assistant director is Katrina Christiansen.