Wednesday, July 2, 2008

All's Well in this Production

Robert Reid (the Kitchener-Waterloo Record) reviews All's Well That Ends Well:

"All's Well That Ends Well has never been popular.

"Nonetheless, the Stratford Shakespeare Festival has turned to it at significant times in its history.

"In 1953, founding artistic director Tyrone Guthrie launched the festival with Richard III and the North American premiere of All's Well That Ends Well.

"In 2002, Richard Monette, the festival's longest serving artistic director, included it in the gala 50th anniversary season.

"The play is being staged for only the sixth time to mark the inaugural season of Antoni Cimolino as general director and Des McAnuff as artistic director.

"Neither comedy nor tragedy nor romance, All's Well That Ends Well is closer to satire. Scholars usually lump it in with Measure for Measure and Troilus and Cressida as so-called problem plays.

"The play has fared better in recent years because it seems peculiarly modern with its spunky heroine coupled with distasteful hero against a backdrop of forthright sexuality.

"It's ironic that the production, which opened Friday at the Festival Theatre, is being directed by Marti Maraden.

"Things did not end well for Maraden and Don Shipley when they resigned as co-artistic directors weeks before the festival opened, leaving the artistic reins in McAnuff's sole possession.

"Those who are seeing the play for the first time will wonder why it's been so unpopular. Maraden's production is both irresistibly elegant and charming.

"All's Well That Ends Well has been described as a bitter comedy because of its dark ambiguity. Although it ends with the conjugal resolution of Helena and Bertram, most commentators believe there's no assurance all is well for the couple.

"Maraden will have none of this. She wraps the bitter pill in the play's belly in a tasty, bittersweet coating.

"In this poignant production, the redeemed cad falls at the feet of the woman he was forced to marry below his class against his will.

"Maraden and designer Christina Poddubiuk have set the production in the high Victorian period of the late 1880s. They paint the production in warm Chekovian colours.

"Poddubiuk's set is handsome. Her costumes are subtle variations on black and grey in France and golds, browns and rusts in Italy.

"Louise Guinand's lighting evokes both eventide and autumn, while Keith Thomas's music is wistful and nostalgic.

"Indeed, the production is lovely to behold.

"The play revolves around Helena, one of Shakespeare's most attractive heroines. Daniela Vlaskalic makes an auspicious festival debut as the 'poor physician's daughter.' She's a delight in every way.

"Bertram is easy to dislike as a petulant snob who never seems worthy of Helena. Even at play's end, theatregoers can be forgiven for wondering what Helena sees in him.

"Nonetheless, Jeff Lillico is a convincing Bertram. In keeping with Maraden's interpretation, he makes us believe the remorseful young buck is completely and permanently redeemed.

"The production brims with sparkling performances.

"Martha Henry demonstrates why Bernard Shaw famously described the Countess of Rossillion as 'the most beautiful old woman's part ever written.'

"Brian Dennehy's phrasing is more casual than we customarily hear in Shakespearean productions at Stratford, but he's a commanding King of France.

"Stephen Ouimette is a wise, witty and compassionate Lafew.

"Juan Chioran attracts many of the laughs as the cowardly braggart Parolles who struts around the stage like a peacock in heat.

"Fiona Reid and Randy Hughson make hay with the little they are given as Widow Capilet and Interpreter.

"The crowning performance, however, is Tom Rooney as Lavache, whom he plays as a pigeon-toed fool with Tourette's syndrome. It's a wonderfully eccentric gem of a performance that lingers in the mind.

"Thanks to Maraden, her creative team and cast, this production of All's Well That Ends Well lives up to its title -- no irony intended."

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