"All's Well That Ends Well"
Yale Repertory Theatre, New Haven
The company at Yale Rep is having a romp with “All’s Well That Ends Well.” But, unfortunately, it takes forever to get to that raucous state. In fact, the show’s first half is one long drag.
Not that the company is entirely to blame. This least satisfying of Shakespeare’s comedies must share the guilt. But directors James Bundy and Mark Rucker undoubtedly had their reasons for this choice. Could it be that they saw “All’s Well That Ends Well” as an ironic but accurate reflection of our times and our values? The title says it all, suggesting that any behavior is justified if it brings about the desired results. The ends justify the means.
The irritating plot of “All’s Well” deals with a forced marriage. In this case Bertram, Count of Rossillion, is forced to marry his mother’s ward Helena. Helena, skilled in medicine, has saved the life of the King of France. And the grateful King, in return, offers Helena the choice of any courtier as her husband. She chooses Bertram, her childhood playmate, whom she loves to distraction. Bitterly resentful, Bertram promptly abandons Helena and runs off to the wars.
Though we are expected to have sympathy for the noble Helena and disdain for the cad Bertram, our sympathies go to Bertram. How difficult it is to admire a heroine who has trapped a man into marriage and to blame a cad who longs to escape!
Thus we are caught in a mesh of negative emotions.
The early acts are given over to tiresome exposition, with actors lumbering through their lines. Bertram’s mother, the Countess of Rossillion is played low-key and dolefully by Kathleen Chalfant, ostensibly the star of this production. But her scenes do nothing to raise the play’s energy level. Other featured characters are equally disappointing. Nicholas Heck in the key role of Bertram gives such a flat portrayal that one cannot believe in Helena’s infatuation. Richard Robichaux as the scoundrel Parolles is meant to be one of the play’s more interesting characters, a mini-Iago, if you will. But Robichaux never runs with the part, never milks its full possibilities. Again, one more underplayed performance. The few players who come off well serve in smaller roles. John Cunningham is an estimable King of France, Nick Corley’s Lavatch is a notable Shakespearean clown, and Dale Soules a gusty Italian widow.
Assuming one stays with the show beyond intermission, one is in for a treat. Bundy and Rucker turn the tiresome play into a veritable “Love, Italian Style.” One half expects Sofia Loren to slink across the stage. And indeed she does, in the person of Erin Felgar. Clothed in a tight, revealing bodice, swishy skirt and seductive curls, she is very appropriately the source of Bertram’s downfall. And when the cast breaks into song—“Arrivederci Roma,” among other familiar songs—it is no surprise. The Elizabethan era has become a 20th century Italian movie. Purists may blanch at these liberties taken with a Shakespearean play, but they are certainly more appealing than the tiresome pace of the earlier half.
-- Irene Backalenick
May 1, 2006