THE WINTER'S TALE, by William Shakespeare. Directed by David Chambers; setting by Tony Straighes; costumes by Carol Oditz; lighting by Arden Fingerhut.
With Stanley Anderson, Barbara Sohmers, Mark Hammer, Caitlin Clarke, Kenneth Ryan, Mark Lin-Saker and Richard Bauer.
At Arena Stage through Nov. 11.
Word has it has Arena Stage is facing a small cost-overrun crisis over Carol Oditz's spectacular costumes for "The Winter's Tale."
If the management is looking for a way to push the problem under the rug, here are several fiscally irreresponsible alternatives:
Count a portion of the costume budget as scenery. When the play moves from the Sicilian court to the Bohemian hinterland, after all, what we normally regard as scenery changes not one whit. Instead, it is the change of costumes -- from furtrimmed royal coats and knee -- high black boots to sheepskins and and sandals and rainbow-colored barbarian wraps -- that transports us, emotionally as well as geographically.
Or, if the scenery budget is already exhausted -- as it might well be by Tony Straiges' magnificent white terrazzo disk of a stage with its translucent plastic banquet table and its rim of columns of glowing light -- why not simply call this two productions instead of one? "The Winter's Tale is, after all, almost two plays -- a variation on "Othello," with a noble leader and his household ruined by insane jealousy, and then after a break of 16 years, a pastoral comedy with a disobedient prince wooing a shepherd's daughter who is truly a princess.
Or if two productions are not enough to account for the expense of these troublesome costumes, Arena could count this as a whole year's worth of theater since "The Winter's Tale" encompasses all the seasons of the year, beginning with the mirth of summer and circling through aching fall and grim winter back to the reaffirmation of spring.
To be fair to director David Chambers and his aides, "The Winter's Tale," if it is to be done at all, is an invitation to extravagance. It is also an invitation to directorial ingenuity. This "winter's Tale" has been blessed with both.
Some theatergoers will undoubtedly prefer those plays of Shakespeare's that submit more readily to 20th-century psychological scrutiny. King Leontes' rage springs, to all appearances, out of nowhere, with no Iago egging him on, his jealousy seems as unaccountable as, say, snow in the second week of October.
But "the Winter's Tale" is also one of Shakespeare's most rhetorically luscious plays, and here the rhetoric is strong and lucid, thanks to the sort of clear direction that is worth a thousand footnotes. Even when the acting is artificial -- and it is annoyingly so in patches -- the lines are uttered with a refreshing attention to what they mean.
Richard Bauer, looking like a walking yard-goods sale and caressing every vowel and consonant, makes a wonderful rapscallion as Autylocus, one of Shakespeare's most engaging rogues. Like the production as a whole, Bauer's performance combines physical flair with simple good sense.
As the Old Shepherd, Robert Prosky greets the discovery of Perdita -- leontes' abandoned baby daughter -- with a splendidly simple air of gratitude. Along with Mark Linn-Baker's delivery of Perdita's discourse on clean unaffected portrayal of Prince Florizel and Caitlin Clark's rapturous flowers, Prosky's performance makes a major contribution to the effectiveness of the whole Bohemain half of the play.
But another unexpected factor is the raucous and genuinely festive singing and dancing. Most directors regard Shakespeare's forest merrymaking as an unpleasant interruption in the action -- a bit of business to be subcontracted out to some half-witted choreographer. If the absence of a choregraphy credit means that Chambers is the responsible party, it is to his considerable credit.
The tragic, Sicilian half of this "Winter's Tale," unfortunately, is less engrossing than the rebirth that follows -- and the blame for that lies in part with Chambers, too. Some of his visual notions exact an unacceptable price in loss of pace.
And some of the blame lies with Stantely Anderson as Leontes. There are stirring but also ponderous passages in Anderson's performance, and -- despite a tendency elsewhere to stretch things out too long -- his repentance comes about with baffling suddenness. He has scarcely had time to realize that his son is dead and his queen dying before he has read these events as divine vengeance and is disavowing three acts' worth of mad accusations.