Under the direction of Artistic Director Robert Falls, Goodman Theatre’s THE WINTER’S TALE is one of the most inventive and playful productions of Shakespeare I’ve seen. In the Shakespearean canon, THE WINTER’S TALE defies easy categorization. Unlike many of Shakespeare’s other plays, which can be neatly defined as either tragedy or comedy, THE WINTER’S TALE incorporates both immense despair and immense mirth in the text’s very core.
The play does so by dividing the action into two distinct acts, with 16 years in between them (with the passage marked most gleefully here by Mark Lancaster in the role of Time itself). The first act concerns the jealous King Leontes of Sicilia (Dan Donohue), who develops an irrational fear that his loyal wife Hermione (Kate Fry) has taken up an affair with his childhood friend, King Polixenes of Bohemia (Nathan Hosner). Leontes’s ensuing actions sees Hermione torn away from her young son, Mamillius (Charlie Herman) and her newborn baby, Perdita. In stark contrast, the second act transports the action to the mirthful Bohemia, in which we see Perdita (Chloe Baldwin), now a young woman, and her budding love affair with Florizel (Xavier Bleuel), prince of Bohemia.
The production design beautifully conveys the contrast between the acts. Walt Spangler’s set design makes Sicilia a stark, modernist landscape of grey tones, beginning with the grey furry carpet on which Hermione, Leontes, and Polixenes lounge in the first scene. Much of the action in the first part is staged in front of or behind large glass panes, as if to convey the murkiness of Leontes’s delusions. Ana Kuzmanic’s costume designs are similarly somber for the first part of the show. The characters wear formal garments in dark colors. In the second act, however, the production elements come together to convey the fanciful nature of Bohemia. The play transitions with a shower of bright pink confetti onto the stage and remarkable sheep puppets that represent one of Bohemia’s main trades. Aaron Spivey’s lighting designs become brighter, Richard Woodbury’s sound design and music more cheerful, and Kuzmanic’s costume designs become awash with color. It’s a delectable contrast that lifts both production and audience out of the play’s somber beginning and paves the way for a second half filled with delight and humor.
The remarkable 19-member ensemble also gives its due to the shifting tones of THE WINTER’S TALE. As Leontes, Donohue convincingly portrays a man consumed by jealousy. Donohue’s Leontes certainly appears to be on a rampage, yet his delivery of Shakespeare’s text is precise and easily understandable. As Hermione, Fry gives one of the most stunning performances of the evening. Fry makes it easy to see all of Hermione’s pain and suffering and conveys that above all, this is a woman who longs to defend her honor. As Polixenes, Hosner deftly delivers the Shakespearean language, making it seem as natural as modern-day parlance. Henry Godinez gives a heart-stirring turn as Camillo. Christiana Clark makes Paulina, the queen’s right-hand woman, a real force, unable to contain her rage at Leontes and her profound grief over the suffering of her dear friend.
The more comedic roles in THE WINTER’S TALE find equal success in this production. As the Old Shepherd who finds baby Perdita out in the fields of Bohemia, Tim Monsion has great comedic timing. As the Clown/Shepherd’s Son, Will Allan also proves a master at comedy, both wordplay and physical comedy. The Clown’s exchanges with the con artist Autolycus (Philip Earl Johnson) are some of the funniest of the evening. Allan and Johnson deliver some of the best physical antics of the night. And just as Johnson’s Autolycus can easily slip from scheme-to-scheme, Allan’s Clown is equally willing to fall for those schemes every time. As Perdita and Florizel, Baldwin and Bleuel easily convey the bliss and excitement of young love.
In just over two hours, Goodman Theatre delivers a WINTER’S TALE full of whimsy. Falls’ decision to update all of the “thee’s” and “thou’s” to “you’s” also gives Shakespeare’s language a crispness and a naturalness that lends itself well to the eccentricities of THE WINTER’S TALE. Though the story may seem far-fetched, at the hands of this ensemble we fully buy into all the sorrow and joy that the play has to offer.
THE WINTER’S TALE plays Goodman Theatre’s Albert Theatre, 170 North Dearborn, through June 9. Tickets are $20-$80. Visit GoodmanTheatre.org/TheWintersTale or call 312.443.3800.
Photo Credit: Liz Lauren
Originally published on BroadwayWorld.com