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Reviewed by:
  • The Winter's Taledir. by Robert Falls
  • Terri Bourus
The Winter's TalePresented by the Goodman Theatre, Chicago, IL. 05 4- 06 9, 2019. Directed by Robert Falls. Set Design by Walt Spangler. Costume Design by Ana Kuzmanic. Lighting Design by Aaron Spivey. Original Music and Sound Design by Richard Woodbury. With Dan Donohue (Leontes), Kate Fry (Hermione), Christiana Clark (Paulina), Henry Godinez (Camillo), Nathan Hosner (Polixenes), Gregory Linington (Antigonus), Philip Earl Johnson (Autolycus), Chloe Baldwin (Perdita), Xavier Bleuel (Florizel), and Charlie Herman (Mamillius).

The first thing I saw was me. When I entered the grand main stage auditorium for the Goodman Theatre's production of The Winter's Tale, I could not help noticing myself, reflected and mobile, in Walt Spangler's startling set: instead of a curtain draped across the stage, there was an uneven wall of metallic mirrors reflecting the orchestra seating and the main doors. Literally, the play held the mirror up to nature, or at least to the nature of a particular audience on a Friday night in Chicago in the spring of 2019. [End Page 579]

Not a young audience. The spectators reflected by this Winter's Talewere overwhelmingly middle-aged or older, in the late autumn or winter of their lives, and, to judge from their clothes and accessories, very well off. Perhaps there were fewer young adults in the auditorium because the young adult characters here didn't make much difference. This was a production by and for an older metropolitan elite, many married with children, and in most cases married with adult children. An audience that likely consisted of a high proportion of people who knew something, at first or second hand, about infidelity and jealousy and the effect of marital conflict on the offspring of a disintegrating union.

The first thing I saw when the performance actually began was the child, Mamillius. He was wearing a modern-day child's bear costume (very different from the much more realistic, large, frightening bear who appeared later in the play). The first Shakespearean words we heard were a voice-over of Mamillius speaking lines from 2.1: "A sad tale's best for winter. I have one / Of sprites and goblins." Like many of the people around me, I had spent my time between entering the auditorium and the start of the performance reading the program and so I initially interpreted this opening in terms of dramaturg Neena Arndt's essay on the generic implications of the title ("neither comedy nor tragedy"), and director Robert Falls's description of the play as "like a fairy tale." As cruel, he reminded us, as fairy tales used to be, before Disney repackaged them.

But the program gave us only part of the logic behind this opening. Mamillius in the bear suit reappeared at the very end of the play, after all the adults had trooped off to their star-spangled "happy ending." In the sixteen years that had passed since the boy's death, he had not aged. In the end as at the beginning, he stood outside the play, watching it or haunting it or haunting us. A reminder that not everything has been restored; that there is one loss caused by Leontes that cannot be undone. Shakespeare allowed audiences to forget Mamillius if they wanted to; Falls would not allow us to forget.

I had seen Mamillius at the end of the play before: in the Joint Stock production hosted by the Chicago Shakespeare Theatre in 2016. But it was different in the Goodman staging, partly because opening with Mamillius transformed the significance of closing with Mamillius. By bookending the play with the boy, Falls turned The Winter's Taleinto Mamillius's story.

But the Goodman ending also packed more punch than the Joint Stock ending because Falls forced us to witness the boy's death. Spangler's set, once the mirror-wall rose up and away, divided the stage space [End Page 580]into receding layers, separated by transparent walls. Through that cinematic frame, the audience could watch Mamillius listening to his father's paranoid and vulgar soliloquies about his mother. "Careful the tale you...


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