“What a gripping story,” said one audience member.
“Yes. I think this writer has a future,” replied the other.
The writer under discussion was William Shakespeare. They were joking of course but as the two left THE WINTER’S TALE at Goodman Theatre, they were also marveling at the Bard’s ability to keep people on the edges of their seats.
Robert Fall’s new production of THE WINTER’S TALE is brisk and agile. It also makes a broad distinction between the first half’s rising tragedy and the second half’s buoyant comedy and romance. When a king accuses his pregnant queen of infidelity with disastrous consequences, it happens inside a chilly world of reflective black panels. When the action shifts to sheep-shearing season in another country, set designer Walt Spangler creates a warmly colorful place where redemption is possible.
Goodman Theatre production’s bear
But first, there’s that stage direction: “Exit, pursued by a bear.” Even those who have never read or seen THE WINTER’S TALE know it. Here, we get a bear in the opening moment of the play. A child in a bear costume pulls the head piece down over his young face. This moment, a directorial addition by Falls, reverberates throughout the evening. Without speaking a word, the boy inside the costume – the king’s son – embodies the tragedy unleashed by his father’s jealousy. Later, when an adult character exits, pursued and then killed by a bear, the initial image becomes clear. In life and onstage, playfulness always pivots with heartbreak.
Truth to power in THE WINTER’S TALE
In this viewer’s opinion, Shakespeare’s text doesn’t often soar in this production and the casual ad libs distract rather than enrich. But that does not prevent the solid cast from presenting a timeless message. Leontes (Dan Donohue), the king of Sicilia, believes his wife Hermione (Kate Fry) has betrayed him with his dear friend Polixenes (Nathan Hosner), the king of Bohemia. The courtiers and servants surrounding Leontes know that his sudden suspicion is unfounded. But of the many people present, only a few have the courage to confront him directly and do what they can to resist the injustice that follows.
A 408-year-old portrait of a delusional leader, THE WINTER’S TALE demonstrates how rare it is to speak truth to power. This viewer could not watch Paulina (Christiana Clark), Hermione’s loyal friend, challenge the king without thinking of today’s yes-men and yes-women who passively let their leaders skid off the rails of common sense. In the second half, the con artist Autolycus (Philip Earl Johnson) spins lively yarns as he lifts money and valuables from the gullible folks of pastoral Bohemia.
Taken in total, the story adds up to an exploration of unchecked human impulse. Equally, it offers the potential for lessons learned. Repentance overcomes error in THE WINTER’S TALE. The younger generation – offspring of Leontes and Polixenes and their friends – face life with an exuberance that inspires their elders. As Shakespeare makes these leaps and bounds between lightness and darkness, his audiences remain on the edge of their seats.
Note: This is now added to the Picture this Post round up of BEST PLAYS IN CHICAGO, where it will remain until the end of the run. Click here to read — Top Picks for Theater in Chicago NOW – Chicago Plays PICTURE THIS POST Loves.
Will Allan, Cher Álvarez, Chloe Baldwin, Xavier Bleuel, Josh Carpenter, Christiana Clark, Dan Donohue, Amanda Drinkall, Kate Fry, Henry Godinez, Charlie Herman, Nathan Hosner, Susan Jamshidi, Philip Earl Johnson, Mark Lancaster, Gregory Linington, Tim Monsion, Christopher Sheard, Martin Zebari
Robert Falls (director), Walt Spangler (Set Design), Ana Kuzmanic (Costume Design), Aaron Spivey (Lighting Design), Richard Woodbury (Original Music and Sound Design), Tommy Rapley (Choreography), Neena Arndt (Dramaturgy), Briana Fahey (Production Stage Manager) Kimberly Ann McCann & Nikki Blue (Stage Managers)
Now through June 9
Wednesdays at 7:30 PM
Thursdays at 2:00 & 7:30 PM
Fridays at 8:00 PM
Saturdays at 2:00 & 8:00 PM
Sundays at 2:00 & 7:30 PM
170 N. Dearborn
About the Author
Susan Lieberman is a Jeff-winning playwright, journalist, teacher and script consultant who commits most of her waking hours to Chicago theatre. Her radio drama In the Shadows recently aired on BBC Radio 4.