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THEATER REVIEW The Winter's Tale
by Lauren Emily Whalen

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Playwright: William Shakespeare

At: Goodman Theatre, 170 N. Dearborn St. Tickets: $20-80; Runs through: June 9

Why The Winter's Tale? Robert Falls may not know.

In an interview with the Chicago Sun-Times, director Falls confessed he's unsure what exactly the play is about. The first half of The Winter's Tale is a lightning-quick revenge tragedy; the second half a romantic comedy with music and wacky antics galore. Climactic scenes involve a bear and a statue. Yet The Winter's Tale is a favorite of many Shakespeare fans ( this critic included ), for its tragicomic take on jealousy, forgiveness and redemption. Goodman Theatre's production is a masterpiece of storytelling that's equal parts shadow and sunshine, bringing home the healing power of love.

The Winter's Tale kicks off with casual banter between Leontes, King of Sicilia ( Dan Donohue ), his pregnant wife Hermione ( Kate Fry ) and their best friend, fellow ruler Polixenes ( Nathan Hosner ). Suddenly—very, very suddenly—Leontes becomes convinced that the unborn child is not his own, and that Polixenes and Hermione are not only having an affair but plotting to kill him. Though wise Paulina ( Christiana Clark ) tries to talk sense into the jealous king, a series of tragic events ensue. Sixteen years later in the land of Bohemia, teenage Perdita ( Chloe Baldwin )—whose name means "lost"—embarks on a romance with prince-in-disguise Florizel ( Xavier Bleuel ) despite the meddlings of Florizel's father and his counsel Camillo ( Henry Godinez ).

Are these two stories related? One hundred percent.

The Winter's Tale isn't produced often, though at least two non-Equity Chicago companies ( Otherworld Theatre and Odd's Bodkins ) presented the play in the past year. Perhaps the tide is shifting: though the name recognition isn't that of Romeo and Juliet, and the plot is frequently odd, The Winter's Tale has a timely quality that Falls expertly illustrates at every turn. Leaders ruled by emotion rather than logic, well-meaning but forever-gullible citizens and women who persist despite every possible obstacle: it's all there. Thanks to Falls' thoughtful staging ( supplemented with Tommy Rapley's whimsical choreography ) and the work of his design team ( especially Ana Kuzmanic's vivid costumes and Richard Woodbury's haunting original score ), the story is both accessible and magical.

The Winter's Tale was one of Shakespeare's final plays, and both Goodman and Falls do the Bard proud. Though every character ( and bloodthirsty mammal ) is well-cast, standouts include Hosner's charismatic yet moody Polixenes, Charlie Herman's beloved young prince Mamillius and Baldwin's sweetly inquisitive Perdita. Even commedia-esque petty thief Autolycus is given a likable country-twang makeover thanks to the always delightful Philip Earl Johnson. Goodman's reimagining of this underrated classic is both a thought-provoking look at the lies we tell ourselves and a sweeping affirmation that love does indeed conquer all. Whether you are a Winter's Tale newbie or a diehard supporter, you're in for a treat.

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