Sunday, April 13, 2008

All's Well That Ends Well

‘Alls’ not well at Great Lakes Theatre Festival

‘ALLS WELL THAT END’S WELL,’ which is now in production at the
Great Lakes Theatre Festival, is one of Shakespeare’s lesser known plays. Besides its lack of compelling plot, the script has a reputation for being an “unlucky play.” In one of its first productions, the actor playing the female lead fainted and had to be replaced, mid-show. Then the actor playing the king fainted and subsequently died. Other productions have also met with strange happenings.

As far as I know, GLTF's production hasn’t met with any tragedies, but the staging isn’t exactly filled with life and vim. In fact, it is plodding, uninspired and generally flat.

‘ALL'S WELL THAT ENDS WELL,’ is classified as a comedy, though it is probably a Bard problem play….neither tragedy nor comedy. It is also one of Shakespeare’s least produced plays. It simply does not have the power of such work’s as ‘HAMLET, and ‘MACBETH’ nor the delight of ‘MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM.’

The story concerns Helena, the orphan daughter of a famous physician, who is the ward of the Countess of Rousillon. She is hopelessly in love with Count Bertram, the Countess’ son. When the handsome and charismatic Bertram is sent to the court of the King of France, Helena is crestfallen. Despite her beauty and goodness, Helena has no hope of attracting him since she is of low birth and he is a nobleman. However, when word comes that the King is ill, she goes to Paris and, using her father's medicines, she cures the malady. In return, she is given the hand of any man in the realm. Of course, she chooses Bertram. Her new husband is appalled at the match, and after their unconsummated marriage flees France. And, as the convoluted plot develops, we know in advance that everything will be all right, as all’s well that ends well.

‘ALL’S WELL,’ which is directed by GLTF’s artistic director Charles Fee, is a disappointment. Fee, who is noted for his over the top attitude when it comes to overblown farce, fails to turn on the jets in this production. The farce isn’t farcical, the comedy isn’t comedic, the drama isn’t dramatic. The one saving grace is that the languid pace does allow the audience to clearly hear each word.

The cast is generally weak. Markus Potter doesn’t seem to have the dramatic chops for bringing life to Bertram who is supposed to be charismatic, imbued with leadership talents and is a dominating physical figure. None of these characteristics were present in Potter’s performance.

Sara Brunner has some good moments as Helena, but is several steps away from developing a special young woman who inspires our desires for her to succeed in her quest. Much of the performance was on the surface.

Though amusing, David Anthony Smith, who I must admit is one of my favorite GLTF players, didn’t have fun with Parolles, the over-exaggerating liar and buffoon. The same with Jeffrey Hawkins, who has become the company’s “player of clowns.” He threw away lines that should have been funny and feigned prat falls.

Countess Rossillion, is one of the few good roles for an older actress in the Shakespeare canon. Modern productions have starred the likes of Judi Dench and Peggy Ashcroft. Laura Perrotta is perfectly acceptable in the role, but captivating, she isn’t.

The one bright shining performance is that of Aled Davies, as the King. He is character right!

And then there is the set. Gage Williams’ has loaded the smallish stage with a massive fortress that pushes the action so forward that the actors have limited space to move. The large pillars so dominate that those of sitting on the sides of the theatre cant see much of the action mid to rear center stage. Then there is the large box that pops up at various times from the stage floor for no apparent reason other than to shout, “special effect.” What was Williams’ thinking?

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: It is fairly common for GLTF’s opening night audiences to jump to their feet at the final curtain, yelling “bravos.” During the curtain call of ‘ALL’S WELL THAT ENDS WELL,’ there was polite applause, no standing ovation and people left the theatre talking about the rainy weather and yet another loss by the Indians, who had just finished their game at Progressive Field. Those actions sum up the production. Want a great theatre experience ? See GLTF’s mesmerizing THE CRUCIBLE!