Now still being the winter of our discontent, it feels unwarranted for the Goodman Theatre to run its air conditioner on high, as if we could forget for a moment the urban tundra that encircles its new production of The Winter’s Tale, directed by Robert Falls. But a chilly excess characterizes this rendition of Shakespeare’s romance about the destructive jealousy of Sicilian king Leontes (played with muttering intensity by Dan Donohue) and his Job-like redemption, with a comic interlude of song and so forth in the pastoral land of Bohemia.
Though graced with some excellent actors—in addition to Donohue, Kate Fry is a winsome, then woebegone, then wonderful Hermione, and Christiana Clark an impressively forceful Paulina—the absence of effort to reconcile the incoherence of the plot makes this production primarily a spectacle. Layers of glass serve as the kingdom of Sicilia, throwing reflections like a ghostly hall of mirrors. Bohemia has sheep as large as Trojan horses, a warbling thief, and shepherds who line dance. Hundreds of red scraps of paper clutter the stage. It sort of makes you wish you were watching the play outdoors, unamplified, with a picnic in summer.
One choice that succeeds is the interpretation of one of Shakespeare’s most memorable stage directions: “Exit, pursued by a bear.” Dressing Leontes’ son Mamillius (Charlie Herman) in a bear suit as he plays in Act I serves as a vivid foil to the beast that eviscerates the servant Antigonus at the end of Act III, allowing the image to serve as the otherwise-absent pivot between comedy and tragedy. v