Under Drew Fracher’s direction, it’s very much a visual production, both in the kinetic blocking that makes much of Act II a medley of physical comedy and in the show’s set and costume design.


Written late in Shakespeare’s life and classified as a “romance,” “The Winter’s Tale” begins as a tragedy and ends as a comedy and feels like an upside-down “Romeo and Juliet” in that respect, including its focus on the adults instead of the young lovers.


With Fracher’s production, Shakespeare’s tale of Sicilia’s King Leontes’ irrational jealousy and its dire consequences — his son’s, his wife’s and an honorable nobleman’s deaths, the end of a life-long friendship with Bohemia’s King Polixenes — turns on contrasts and humor.


As a prologue, Fracher establishes an urban, aggressive tone for Sicilia with a dance at court by four women whose appearance is best described as starched and whose choreography has a militaristic undertone to it.


Marcus Stephens’ set for Sicilia extends that tone with its sparseness, gray walls and vertical blinds that hang above the sides and back of the stage, their shadows appearing to look like prison bars cast across the stage.


By contrast, his Bohemia is a world of nature, filled with trees and foliage, while the back wall disappears and is replaced by a bright blue background.


Similarly, costume designer Christine Turbitt gives the Sicilians a formal, restrictive look, while the Bohemians’ clothing has an earthy and free-flowing look to it.


Fracher further delineates the differences between Sicilia and Bohemia with his use of music: The opening dance sequence relies on loud, recorded percussion instruments and has an assaultive quality to it, for example, while the young people’s folk dance in Act II utilizes violin, viola and guitar played by members of the cast and brings the community together in celebration.


But Fracher’s use of humor provides the most subtle and obvious contrasts between Sicilia and Bohemia.


Leontes, who defies the Oracle of Apollo, and the Bohemian pickpocket Autolycus both operate outside the law, and each is a primary source of humor in this production, one as the object of the humor, the other as the engine for it.


Although Leontes’ jealousy may be unfounded, Grant Goodman makes the character’s sense of betrayal genuine, as he does Leontes’ paranoia, but he rarely and only late in Act I brings the king to a state of rage.


Instead, he plays the jealousy with an understated tone — it’s all delivered as asides — that’s both reasonable in its delivery, if occasionally cutting, and, as a result, humorous, as if Fracher and Goodman are commenting on how illogical Leontes’ jealousy is by bringing it to the fore and poking fun at it.


The engaging Giles Davies, by contrast, plays Autolycus as a happy-go-lucky all-around rogue — both in his winking delivery and his large, flowing movements that make the audience believe Autolycus improvises his way through life — whose crimes fit into the genre of comic caper.


Davies’ free-wheeling comedy invites the audience to relate to Autolycus as co-conspirators, whereas the rational demeanor Goodman brings to Leontes creates humor but also creates tension and makes the audience nervous.


Although the rest of the cast in major roles turn in the sort of performances that appear effortless but rely on precise technique, two performances standout, in particular:


As Paulina, an engrossing Wendy Robie is intense and provides the production its moral center with the sense of conviction and power she brings to the role.


L. Peter Callender, double-cast as Antigonus (the epitome of honorable in his depiction) and The Old Shepherd is a joy to watch as the latter, with Callender bursting with life and dance in the role.


As for the bear, it’s giant, furry, growls and, thanks to Kevin Dreyer’s lighting design, is outlined by lightning flashes during the storm that make it look even larger and fiercer because it becomes more of a giant blur and shadow than a distinct creature.