Who Seduces Whom In This Shakespeare Play?
First, let us all hail Ed Nahhat and his merrie band of actors, directors, producers and tech folks from Water Works Theatre, celebrating their 15th season of outdoor Shakespeare in Royal Oak. (And what more appropriate place to present the Bard than a town named for an English’s king’s legendary tree?)
This year’s evening production, briskly directed by Terry Carpenter, offers us a glimpse of one of the less-often produced Shakespeare pieces, “All‘s Well That Ends Well.” And you’ve got to hand it to old Will. Dead nearly 400 years, and he’s still got us thinking about all the big stuff: Men, women, sex, power, love. Even in one of the plays that’s not among his top tier.
In the course of an evening at “All’s Well,” you’ll find yourself first grumbling—“Well that twit Bertram isn’t worthy of Helena, or worth her going to all this trouble over.” But then you counter—“Well, she and the king did coerce him into marriage in the first place…maybe he‘s not so much cad as mad.”
And on and on it could go, in your internal dialog or your post-theatre chat with a viewing companion.
An exchange early on between Helena and Bertram’s companion Parolles sets the theme that love and war, virgins and their seducers are quite interchangeable. This duo of actors were the most effective at a first-weekend performance, with Meredith Deighton as a sweet yet feisty Helena, and Stephen Blackwell a standout as Parolles. Other notable performances included Dan Johnson, broad and bawdy as the Clown.
The production’s vaguely Downton Abbyish setting is established best by Corey Globke’s lovely costumes.
Other pop-culture references are charmingly slipped in as well. When Helena and Diana (Sarah McEneaney) select their husbands, the play offers sly nods to a well-known reality show. (Hint: the show sometimes leads to short-lived marriages.)
The problem is that Helena’s crush, Bertram, is a bachelor candidate you might not root for. And he’s not dynamically slimy or charismatically crooked enough to be an outstanding naughty boy either. He’s a bit of a cipher, running from Helena toward France and war and Italian hookups. This puzzling character issue isn’t one actor Peter Prouty or director Carpenter have completely solved.
At this early performance, only one or two actors struggled with a line reading or memory lapse.
Punching home a play to a 21st century audience that might not speak fluent Shakespeare can be a challenge, even without the occasional car vrooming by in the distance. The sound system’s volume did dim slightly at times, accenting how well each performer could or couldn’t project; yet hey still held our attention.
(And speaking of pop culture references–during the scenes where Parolles is being pranked, watch for the deliberate accent that sounds rather like an homage to the Muppets’ Swedish Chef.)
The small stage set is perfectly appropriate. Why mess with more when you can just enjoy the natural setting of enormous shade trees bathed in golden-hour light and a full-moon night?
Old Will would have liked this setting and the latest spin on these eternal tales.