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All's Well That Ends Well

CATEGORY :
by William Shakespeare

COMPANY : Georgia Shakespeare [WEBSITE]
VENUE : Conant Performing Arts Center [WEBSITE]
ID# 2954

SHOWING : July 11, 2008 - August 02, 2008

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PRODUCTION DESCRIPTION

So, what do you do when you're in love with someone who doesn't deserve you, and who treats a lying scoundrel as a role model? Well, if you're Helena of Rossilion, you ... Ah, well, therein lies a tale! How do you think it will end?


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REVIEWS

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Making it Work
by Dedalus
Friday, July 25, 2008
4.5
Five years ago, I made the following comments when reviewing the Shakespeare Tavern’s production of “All’s Well That Ends Well” --

The] script's main challenge -- how do we sympathize with a woman obsessed with a man who has little (or nothing) to recommend him? What is needed to make this whole thing work is some sort of subtext which makes this attraction apparent from the first moment they appear, some sense of duty that makes Bertram's rejections and subsequent actions less caddish, some sense of "history" between them that makes Helena's devotion understandable. ... To be honest, I've yet to see this relationship "work" in any production, so it actually may be an insurmountable quibble.

In Georgia Shakespeare’s new and poetic mounting of this piece, a few conceptual tricks are tossed in to help solve the problem, but the real solution is simpler – This time we’re given a Helena (Susannah Millonzi) who gets us under the skin of this character. Her love for Bertram is never a creepy obsessive-compulsive (almost “stalker”) neurosis, but a simple unconditional devotion that we come to root for, to appreciate, and to cheer on.

True to form, Derrick Ledbetter’s Bertram is callow, deceitful, and seemingly possesses no redeeming qualities whatsoever. But now, Ms. Millonzi’s riveting reading makes us see him through Helena’s eyes. We see the boyish enthusiasm that first attracted her, the innocent playfulness smothered by the death of his father. We now see his deceitfulness as less a character flaw and more the poisoned influence of that liar and rogue Parolles. How can he help being deceitful, when his only role model shows the joys and benefits of such behavior? Indeed, in this production, it is the spectacle of Parolles’ disgrace that sets the stage for Bertram to be receptive to Helena’s redeeming love.

But I’m getting a little ahead of myself. “All’s Well” has always seemed to me an ironic title. Structurally, I never thought the play ended particularly well – the plot runs out of steam at the end of Act IV, and Act V always struck me as so much filler – let’s recap the plot for the groundlings before we resolve it! Plotwise, it also doesn’t end particularly well -- Helena gets her man, true, but she is now married to a jerk who doesn’t deserve her.

So, why does this production work so well? I’ve already discussed the driving force of the central performance. Now, let’s look at the concept. Costumed in vaguely Elizabethan era costumes (I’m an idiot when it comes to knowledge of Fashion history – let’s just say it’s pre-17th-century), you could say it takes an almost traditional approach to the script. But, that idea is blasted out of the auditorium by a flashy, tightly choreographed prologue that shows us the heart of the conflict between Helena and Bertram, and, prior to a word being spoken, makes our hearts break for Helena while building our scorn for the dismissive object of her affection. This is followed by a sequence in which the actors introduce themselves by name and character, setting up the plot and giving us a “scorecard” for the players in this relatively unknown piece.

Another non-traditional idea that works is that the entire cast stays on stage for most of the production, in character, silently interacting with those “in scene.” So when Helena talks about Bertram, he is watching. When she refers to him, he turns away. When Bertram jokes with Parolles about his contempt for Helena, she witnesses it, and is crushed. Interestingly, when Diana, the widow, and Helena hatch the plot against Bertram, he is strangely missing (if my memory doesn’t deceive me). All of this, I found compelling, illuminating, and conducive to following the story.

The set is a series of monumental arches, each representing a different country (Rossilion, Paris, and Florence), with another abstract arch upstage, which, with its overt erotic imagery, could be interpreted as a keystone that holds together the tangling currents of love, desire, and obsession. The backdrop is a cyclorama with a wave-like ground row extending half-way to the “sky.” More symbolism or just a pretty backdrop? Maybe both, maybe neither.

In addition to Ms. Millonzi and Mr. Ledbetter, I have to give credit to Brad Sherrill’s Parolles. I have criticized him in the past for “phoning in his performance,” and for being forgettable in smaller roles. Here though, he is a bundle of energy, making us appreciate the joy Parolles takes in his rascality (is that a word?) or at least, the pleasure he takes in spinning lies and corrupting the young Count. I can’t remember when I’ve enjoyed Mr. Sherrill more.

Credit also should be paid to Tess Malis Kincaid’s Countess, Chris Ensweiler’s clown (Chris Ensweiler playing a comic role? Who would have guessed?), Chris Kayser’s Lord Lefew, and Joe Knezevich adding a beard and some years to play the ailing King of France. Truly, there was not a bad performance to be found.

I’ve omitted any plot recap for those of you not familiar with this piece – don’t worry, the program synopsis will fill in any blanks for you. All you need to know is, that I found the love story at the play’s heart compelling, the observations about callowness, youth, and maturity intriguing, and the simplicity of Helena’s unconditional love inspiring. I liked the balletic dance sequences – the opening, Helena’s cure of the king, the midnight encounter between Helena and Bertram (hot and steamy, as it should be), and the ending. They helped build a mood of romanticism that is far removed from obsession, and much more appealing. And, the final act was edited to a point that made the resolution both suspenseful and moving without involving a lot of “plot recap filler.”

In summary, this production made me realize my previous ill-regard for the play was based on misinterpretation and quick judgment. And any performance as luminous as Ms. Millonzi’s will inevitably lead to an ending that is not only “All’s Well,” but resoundingly perfect. O, Lord, Sir!

-- Brad Rudy (BKRudy@aol.com)

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