The Winter's Tale | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

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The Winter's Tale

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The Winter's Tale, Chicago Shakespeare Theater. Shakespeare's strange romance, which begins with gratuitous jealousy and ends with gratuitous forgiveness, is best treated as a fairy tale. A virtuous queen is condemned for adultery with her husband's equally honest best friend. But 16 years later, all is forgiven when their offspring fall in love; as part of the "happily ever after" ending, the supposedly dead mother is miraculously restored to the family. But nothing can help the poor courtier who gets mangled by a bear.

Surefooted and tenderhearted, Michael Bogdanov's very musical modern-dress staging vividly conjures up the play's vastly different settings, imagining Sicily as a cold corporate place and Bohemia as a bumpkin-ridden theme park with Irish music, Hee Haw accents, even a hip-hop jamboree. This rube riot ensures that the sobering return to Sicily, required for the family reunion and the miracle making, is all the more welcome.

What really counts, however, isn't the culture clash but the characterizations, which set up the final reconciliation. There's much to relish in John Reeger as the dour but ultimately deserving bad king, Leontes; Kevin Gudahl, naturally noble as his true friend; Barbara Robertson, indignantly innocent as much-wronged Hermione; and a scrappy Susan Hart as her champion, Paulina (a spitfire who anticipates Moliere's saucy maids). As the lovers in the next generation, Brian Hamman and Johanna McKenzie Miller serve their stereotypes well, but that's about it. And James Fitzgerald plays the skittish clown Autolycus with mercifully little to irritate us.

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