Sunday, October 25, 2009

review of *All’s Well That Ends Well*

directed by Amanda Dehnert
Oct. 24, at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival

A bare, autumnal tree -- the focus of Christopher Acebo’s set for
All’s Well -- conveys the play’s mixed mood: a place of decline, a place to play. (There’s a tree swing for cavorting and meditation, and director Amanda Dehnert has strung a sheet nearby for showing outdoor nickelodeon films (for the scene transitions, like old-timey silent-film title cards, with the voice-overs themselves becoming part of the fun and joking).
Kjerstine Rose Anderson plays Helena with the spunky-gangly-adorable mannerisms of Anne Hathaway in the
Princess Diaries movies: the self-doubting Ugly Duckling morphs into the self-assured princess who’s worth more than the prince she’s chasing.
(Bobo has a vexed, puppy-dog relationship with
All’s Well: He first heard it on an LP record in the ‘70s, and the sound of Vanessa Redgrave’s voice pleading for Bertram to return her love made my teenage self wonder if there was any girl out there who would ever, ever feel that way about me. I would imagine every line and trick of her favor. But I have grown old, and Vanessa even older. The imaginary love-relationship we had is gone, and I must sanctify her relics.
My point being: I have a reverential view of Helena, the self-negating, determined, selfless, loving young woman who really ought to step out of the pages of my collected Shakespeare, dump Bert and kiss me.)
But Dehnert’s production showed me something new about a play that’s close to my heart (cold, remote Ian Charleson in the BBC TV version; Laird Williamson’s Raphaelite production for PCPA in Santa Maria in ‘82, with the young lovers shadowed by angels wherever they went, and a tawny autumnal beauty for the Italian scenes; the World War I setting of the ‘92 production here in Ashland, with Luck Hari as Helena, separated from Bertram by class and race).
Dehnert goes with just nine actors, with Armando Duran (Eddie Carbone last year, this year’s Don Quixote) as Lavache/Clown/presenter and multiple roles, cueing the voiceover films, shambling about like a Chaplin clown, switching among roles and playing the Interpreter who taunts poor humiliated, treacherous Parolles (John Tufts, who was Puck here last year, and the angry young actor Sharpe in the
Equivocation crew -- Tufts ranged from effete prissiness when the braggart soldier was in the ascendant to a look of such utter humiliation, when he was shamed into his nadir, that it evoked pity just to look at him).
The shorthandedness (of only having nine in the cast) only showed when the Clown had to play all the suitors whom Helena rejects at court before making Bertram her choice of husband; and when Lafew rather inexplicably shows up as a member of Bertram’s troop, so that there’d be someone else up there taunting Parolles and listening to his shameful, cowardly confession.
But Dehnert was brilliant in several spots, and this was the best-directed show I’ve seen on this trip (or in a long time): Helena showing her tomboy side by delivering the I-adore-Bertram speech early on while climbing the tree and then hanging upside-down from it. Just before intermission, Dehnert brilliantly intercut two separate speeches of Helena (worried that she has exposed Bertram to war) and of Bertram (worried that he has chosen the wrong life for himself -- in the realms of love and war, respectively, they each face even bigger hurdles than they had anticipated.
A real strength: how the humiliation of Parolles anticipates the humiliation of Bertram in the final scene - and how, conversely, Helena had been humiliated much earlier, when Bertram publicly rejects her hand in marriage.
Dee Maaske and James Edmondson as the Countess and King of France, both elderly now but still powerful. Sadness in their faces, authority in their voices. (The curing of the king done ritualistically, with Helena laying out all her father’s magical potions, but not until after she had wandered into the throne room in Harry Potter robes, fallen flat on her face in abject awe, but soon after faced up to the old codger king and challenged him: my life upon my dad’s abilities -- and promise me a husband while you’re at it, Mr. King.)
Diana and her mother costumed as in some Italian Riviera movie of the ‘50s.
But most important of all:
Dehnert has coached Danforth Comins into being the most likable Bertram I’ve ever seen. Still a schmuck, still full of himself and needing to grow, but basically good, blinded by the class system, appreciative of Helena and now awed into what she has done to pursue him and brought to tears, brought low, brought to the level he needs to be at to give himself over, truly, to another human being who loves him in return.
Finally, Dehnert wisely rejects the King of France’s lame Epilogue, replacing it instead with the newlyweds on a picnic blanket, gazing at home movies, watching their son grow (Helena’s visibly pregnant for the last couple of scenes), with the Clown, under that autumnal tree, reciting one of the procreation sonnets (No. 17, a young woman felt sure after) about the beauty of living on and having our children live after us. ("the beauty of your eyes" "were some child of yours alive that time ..." especially appropriate, with their son cavorting in the home movie)

From Dehnert’s wise program note:
All’s Well That Ends Well. Does It mean Everything That Happens Is All Right as Long as It Comes Out All Right in the End? I would rather this: All Sorts of Things Will Happen, but They’re All Part of How We Make Our Ending.”

Things don’t happen to us; we choose our own plots. Helena works hard at hers, and we should do the same. Tales of young love have lessons even for those whose love is old and autumnal.
[written less than an hour after the show. I really need not to go to these things alone]

Labels: , , , ,


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home