“MERRY OR SAD SHALL’T BE?”
It begins with the dark, disturbing, emotional transition of a jealous King Leontes of Sicilia (Dan Donohue) against his pregnant Queen, Hermione (Kate Fry), and his best friend, King Polixenes of Bohemia (Nathan Hosner), who are publicly accused of adultery, which results in death. Then, as if ripped from any of Shakespeare’s spirited comedies, we are thrust into a future where goodness triumphs, and petty crime, apparently, pays handsomely.
That may be all that you need to know going in for the satisfying experience of Robert Falls’s fanciful new production of Shakespeare’s “The Winter’s Tale,” which opened in the Goodman’s Albert Theatre Monday night. For the evermore curious, there is also a bear—two, sort of; a baby girl; bundles of wool; an oversized, mechanized sheep-shearing puppet; a popular Beatles tune; hip-hop choreography; and, out of nowhere, a German-made 1963 Opel Rekord. It all seems to be set in a “Robert Falls-esque” time and place where courtiers in modern garb, flower children and an Elton John impersonator can not only mix and mingle, but fit in quite well together.
Something for everyone? Precisely the point. Falls’s over-the-top direction matched up with Shakespeare’s literal, if circuitous, journey from the depths of tragedy to robust comedy and enlightenment, leaves you caring about the outcome of a few characters on the way home, including the self-sacrificing Antigonus (Gregory Linington), who had an arm up on everyone until he didn’t, and Mamillius—a delightful performance by Charlie Herman—who bears the brunt of the tale when he asks: “Merry or sad shall’t be?”
The tough assignment of framing the tragedy of the adultery narrative in this brilliantly cast production falls on Donohue’s Leontes, whose single-minded rage is so immediate and rendered with such force and strength of will that his eventual collapse is total. Fry’s superb portrayal—a profound depth of emotional confusion and anguish—is inspired, as is Hosner’s stalwart portrait of Polixenes, the dutiful Camillo played by Henry Godinez and the searing performance by Christiana Clark as Paulina, who defends the Queen at all costs.
Artful dodger Autolycus (Philip Earl Johnson) unravels the story in high comic fashion as he encounters the Clown (Will Allan) and the Old Shepherd (Tim Monsion) in Bohemia, and they together hilariously sort through the twists and turns in the relationship of Perdita (Chloe Baldwin) and Florizel (Xavier Bleuel), the young lovers who are destined to reunite friends, lovers and families.
Walt Spangler’s imaginative set design, with colorful Ana Kuzmanic costumes, Aaron Spivey’s bold lighting and Richard Woodbury’s rich sound and original music combine to make Goodman’s production of “The Winter’s Tale” a visual feast.