Monday, June 30, 2008

All's Too Well in All's Well

Richard Ouzounian (Toronto Star) gives All's Well That Ends Well two out of four stars:

"An interesting production of Chekhov's The Cherry Orchard opened at the Festival Theatre on Friday night. The only problem is that it was supposed to be Shakespeare's All's Well That Ends Well.

"Director Marti Maraden has always had a fondness for finding bittersweet melancholy in classic plays. Sometimes it works, but this time around the losses outweigh the gains.

"This is one of the Bard's so-called 'problem' comedies, where the bitterness of his worldview struggles against the conventional 'happy ending' format. It's a tart, somewhat unpleasant tale of a selfish young lord who casts aside the affections of the fine young woman who loves him, forcing her to go to outlandish means to win his hand.

"Maraden has moved her production from the Franco-Italian Renaissance axis where Shakespeare located it to some nebulous middle-European setting in 1889.

"Christina Poddubiuk's costumes are severely cut and elegantly presented, but they do nothing for the bed-hopping libidinous climate of the play. Director Maraden has obviously given orders to unsex the proceedings – even the jester Lavache, who has some of the raunchiest double entendres in the script, has been cut back by Maraden and played by Tom Rooney with such fey detachment that he's nothing more than wistful and vaguely consumptive to boot.

"Everyone in the play, in fact, seems to be ailing. The King of France is cured early on, thank God, so that Brian Dennehy can let loose with the vigour he does so well.

"But Martha Henry's Countess of Rossilion, instead of being a woman of stern command, is a frail ancient creature who keeps clutching her abdominal region and growing ever frailer, making you wonder how she gave birth to the lusty Bertram of Jeff Lillico some 20-odd years ago.

"Everything is so terminally 'nice,' right down to the Masterpiece Theatre music that Keith Thomas has provided, the edge and bite that give this bitter anti-romance its ultimate power are sadly missing.

"Bertram, for example, is supposed to have fallen in lust at first sight with a young Florentine named Diana, but she's costumed in head-to-toe concealment and played by Leah Oster with a coolness that makes her Marian the Librarian in The Music Man look sluttish by comparison.

"In the midst of all this Hallmark Card tastefulness, a few performances break through. Best of all is Juan Chioran as braggart Parolles. Chioran knows how to wrap his tongue around the most complex Shakespearean locution and deliver it with all its sting attached.

"He is the essence of every man whose vision of himself far exceeds reality, and the scene in which he is forced to confront that by his fellow soldiers is at once hilarious and heartbreaking.

"Daniela Vlaskalic's Helena is well-spoken but just too good to be true. This is a woman, after all, who is willing to swap places in bed to get the man she loves, yet Vlaskalic plays it as though it were a fundraising scheme for the local hospital.

"Lillico has the sense not to sentimentalize her love object, the vain and haughty Bertram, but since he alone is one of the few people playing the script honestly, it makes him look like twice the cad he is.

"There's also good work from Stephen Ouimette as the dust-dry Lafew and Fiona Reid as a meddlesome widow, but the rest sink into the overwhelming blandness."

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