Monday, July 28, 2008

Reviewer: Maraden Should Return

A review of All's Well That Ends Well from Gary Smith at the Hamilton Spectator:

"Unfortunately all is not well in Marti Maraden's beautifully imagined, darkly comic production of All's Well That Ends Well.

"Maraden has orchestrated a mordant reading of the comedy. The play begins, in fact, in a period of mourning. Against a dark, autumnal scene by Watteau, characters move in black Victorian costumes, beautifully designed by Christina Poddubiuk.

"A graceful sense of lamentation is suggested by Keith Thomas's lyric score. Louise Guinand's evocative lighting sends patches of golden mystery across the Stratford Festival Theatre stage.

"Then, alas, Jeff Lillico's cold and petulant Bertram and Daniela Vlaskalic's dispassionate Helena spoil everything.

"Lillico, a fine and sensitive young actor, chooses to play Shakespeare's shallow young gentleman with too much puppylike whimper. And Vlaskalic doesn't summon up the fire and ice necessary to make Helena a figure of great strength and intelligence.

"When the central core of the play is capped at the knees, it's difficult for the rest of the folks onstage to make the thing dance and sing.

"Here, Juan Chioran as a moody, cowardly soldier and Tom Rooney as a saucy servant work hard to restore the play's sense of humour. So do Fiona Reid in the small role of Widow Capilet and Michelle Fisk in the even smaller one of Mariana, her friend. None of these fine performances, however, can wallop the play home, so we are stuck trying to imagine what Lillico and Vlaskalic think they are doing as those ultimately mismatched mates Bertram and Helena.

"Martha Henry does what she can as Countess of Rossillion, mother to the recalcitrant Bertram. She uses that marvellous Henry voice as a musical zither, riding up and down the scale with rhythmic invention, and she moves like a dream. No one can swish back a Victorian skirt better than Henry in full flight.

"Brian Dennehy does similar service in his role as the King of France. Though his bursts of vocal power tend to be trumpet calls of orchestral imagination -- rather than meaningful connections to his character's illness and ultimate restoration -- he still makes a compelling stage figure. His Shakespearean debut here augurs well for future performances, hopefully at Stratford.

"It's good to see Stephen Ouimette back onstage stealing every scene he can as Lafew, a man who comes to understand we're all imperfect in this out-of-whack world.

"What director Maraden creates best here is a world where imperfect people struggle to make sense of those around them -- as well as themselves. It's a much better play than sometimes critics suggest, and in this production, despite its central deficiencies and an underpowered performance by Leah Oster as quick-witted Diana, the total is better than the sum of the parts.

"What All's Well proves is the fact Maraden should be back directing at Stratford next season. Even with Lillico and Vlaskalic failing to strike sparks, she has managed to make a faux silk purse out of what might be considered a sow's ear of a play."

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