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The Winter’s Tale

  • Theater
  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Recommended
Photograph: Liz Lauren

Time Out says

4 out of 5 stars

Theater review by Alex Huntsberger

Fans of Robert Falls’s toweringly brutal King Lear or his puckishly homicidal Measure for Measure might be taken aback by the director’s relatively straightforward take on The Winter’s Tale. Given the play’s standing as one of Shakespeare’s stranger formal experiments—a royal tragedy and a pastoral comedy stapled together by a monologue from Time himself—Falls’s restraint seems, at first, like a missed opportunity. But as the action unspools against the backdrop of Walt Spangler’s austere, windowed set, such misgivings subside. Falls has toned down his usual style in favor of something more muted but equally astute. With one notable exception, the wow moments in this production come not from the staging but from the actors. Falls keeps big ideas to the side, and lets the characters speak for themselves.

The production is full of star turns, chief among them Dan Donohue’s visceral performance as the jealous King Leontes: Every joint and digit of his body express his rage over a perceived affair between his wife, Hermione (a superb Kate Fry), and his best friend, Polixenes (Nathan Hosner). The only one who can weather the king’s vitriol is Christiana Clark’s electric Paulina, who defends Hermione’s honor with an intensity that outdoes even Donohue’s. When the play shifts to the farmlands of Bohemia, the darkness of the first half lingers. The secret romance between Perdita (Chloe Baldwin)—the long-lost daughter of Leontes and Hermione—and Polixenes’s son, Florizel (Xavier Bleuel), puts them in very real danger. Were it not for Philip Earl Johnson’s wily Autolycus and the delightful Tim Monsion and Will Allan as Perdita’s adoptive father and brother, it would be hard to remember that these country scenes, which play out under ominously clouded skies, are supposed to be the funny part.

While the sight of a kindly monarch suddenly breaking bad might call to mind recent developments on Game of Thrones, the elegant incisiveness of the language, especially in the crueler bits, is more reminiscent of Veep. Falls is not precious with Shakespeare’s text; he trims a few scenes and gives his clowns license to go off script, and this lack of reverence is refreshing. If the production’s approach leaves one major casualty—the play’s famous bear—it makes up for it with a truly spectacular sheep. Falls’s boldest stroke is a simple one: He opens the play with the sight of Leontes and Hermione’s doomed young son, Mamillius (Charlie Herman), dressed up in a bear costume, and he ends the play with that same image: a loss no amount of repentance can undo. Leontes may be forgiven in the end, but Falls will not let us forget.

The Goodman Theatre. By William Shakespeare. Directed by Robert Falls. With Dan Donohue, Kate Fry. Running time: 2hrs 15mins. One intermission.

Written by
Alex Huntsberger


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