Sunday, September 20, 2009

OSF: All's Well That Ends Well

I'm not sure that All's Well That Ends Well ends well, at least from our perspective in the 21st century, when arranged marriages are not common and (heterosexual) folks are free to marry whomever they so please, not whomever the king or the parents set them up with.

In the Oregon Shakespeare Festival production of All's Well That Ends Well, directed by Amanda Dehnert, Helena (Kjerstine Rose Anderson) is all ga-ga for Bertram (Danforth Comins), who hardly notices her as she's from a lower class. Bert goes off to serve the King of France (James Edmondson), who is gravely ill. Helena cures him in exchange for marriage to the man of her choice. Bertram. The King makes the match, and Bert goes through with it, but he's none too happy about it, running off to the wars in Italy rather than consummating the deal, and writing, "I have wedded her, not bedded her, and sworn to make the 'not' eternal." (That's Comins and Anderson in the festival photo by Jenny Graham, above at right.)

Helena chases her spouse down and, through some typical Shakespearean mistaken-identity trickery, winds up with both the family jewels and a child, as Betram knocks her up, thinking he's bedding Diana (Emily Sophia Knapp), a hot dish he meets on the road. All is revealed in the end.

The performances are wonderful. It was especially great to see a couple of the festival's veterans, Edmondson (34 seasons) and Dee Maaske (17) ply their craft in the intimate setting of OSF's New Theatre. Anderson is a delight with great range and super comic timing. John Tufts (Parolles) and G. Valmont Thomas are also outstanding in All's Well.

Weisenheimer liked Dehnert's movie-within-a-play twist on this production. (This is a bit of a spoiler, so skip this paragraph if you intend to see the play.) Throughout the play the director has old-style film titles projected on screens around the theater announcing scene changes. In the end, there's a "home movie" of Bertram and Helena living happily ever after with their growing child. In the closing frames of the film, the child walks away from a tree just as The Clown (Armando Duran) walks away from a tree that is the major feature of the set. It turns out the clown, a narrator of the story, is the grown son of the two protagonists, telling their tale.

Hey, I guess it really did end well after all!


Sweetie the Official Scorer said...

This play was nicely done. I agree with director Amanda Dehnert's approach that the way to deal with the problems in this "problem" play is to make Helena and Bertram really young and stupid. It explains everything.

John said...

Nice review - I agree it was a very entertaining production. The ending... man, it hit me right in the gut, and this is a play I'm not terribly disposed to like.

In a relatively small role I absolutely adored Emily Knapp, I really hope 2010 is when she finally breaks through to a headlining role.

Michelle said...

Good review. We just got back from seeing it ourselves along with 5 others! Really loved all the performances and thought the director did a great job with a difficult script. I'm surprised you made no comment about Comins' Bertram? By far a standout performance in one of the Bard's most impossible parts! Also, we really enjoyed the fantasy/nostalgia element to it. The costumes were odd in parts, but all in all such fun!