Somewhere under the mod and motley trappings of ...blessed unrest...'s production of All's Well That Ends Well was a recognizable Shakespeare play. It wasn't one specific thing or other that scuttled what was going on on stage, unless it was that the focus of Lucy Smith Conroy's direction was more squarely on the presentation than the play. Even though the vision could be called unified, it was also almost completely chaotic.
There's no reason that Helena, our heroine, couldn't be played as a whiny hysteric, and her unhappiness at the outset was justified -- her father's dead, and the man she loves barely acknowledges her. And Jessica Burr was funny in a way, and for a while, but what she was doing seemed more suited to the Helena of A Midsummer Night's Dream. Here, the one note became tiresome sooner, not later. Matt Opatrny's Bertram was a good-looking, spoiled brat -- and while that seems to be Shakespeare's point, something more was required than strutting and reciting the lines.
But there was some intelligent, thoughtful acting here, stuff that served both the director and the play. As the King of France, Darrell Stokes was present, thoughtful, well-spoken, and clear in his intent, even as he vomited (his back to the audience, thankfully) into a spittoon, or when, as a reward for curing his illness, he gave Helena a rose to present to her chosen mate -- not unlike various current reality-TV shows. Stokes was so present that this All's Well threatened to become a play about the King of France, rather than about a determined woman and the ostensibly unworthy object of her affection. When he plays Macbeth or Hamlet, I'll be there.
What other talent there was on stage struggled mightily -- while Nick Konow as Parolles had a funny discourse on virginity at the beginning, his comic degradation subplot got lost in the murk; Jesse Webster as Lafew had a classier attitude than the unprepossessing Countess of Rossillion (Meghan Andrews); Brian Turnbaugh made his presence count in three different roles. Leah Pike was another strong, intelligent presence as the Widow -- when she and Stokes play Beatrice and Benedick, or Katherine and Petruchio, I'll be there.
Yet there was evidence that a lot of thought and effort went into the production. As befits a "modern" interpretation, there was a video monitor on stage, which was used for the recitation of letters, showing action that is otherwise only described, and best of all, faux-CNN news broadcasts of the King's miracle cure and updates from the war in Florence. These videos, designed by C. Andrew Bauer, showed care and imagination, and outclassed much of what was happening on stage, where the lighting (designed by Brian H. Scott) was bright white lights that mostly cast weird, face-obscuring shadows. Sarah Rose Sharp's costume designs had a glamour and style the production did not.
A program note said that additional text is taken from Machiavelli's The Prince. Point taken, but not made on stage. ...blessed unrest... also owes apologies to Squeeze, Tal Bachman, Air Supply, and The Beastie Boys for the, um, renditions of their songs -- karaoked mostly by Opatrny, abetted by others. Even The Beastie Boys deserve better.
Also with C. Andrew Bauer, Megan Cramer, D. Patrick Swearingen.
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Copyright 2003 David Mackler