All’s Well That Ends Well
Can anything actually end well in a play where for every good, there is a bad; for every show of trust, there is a betrayal of deceit; for every wise counsel, there is an insult full of biting cynicism. Opposites meet, blend, clash, fight, make love, make war, make peace. The sexes pit against one another even as they do all they can to come together. Youth and the aged, poor and rich, those steeped in dignity and those wearing proudly the title fool mix and mingle. “Us’s” and “them’s” come face to face in the royal court, on the battlefield, in streets of protests, and in the dark of a bedroom. And from the opening moments of mourning the dead to the closing celebration of family reunions, the question raised time and again in William Shakespeare’s All’s Well That Ends Well is what does it mean to “end well” and is “ending well” ever possible, given the crazy, mixed-up world where humans reside.
Oregon Shakespeare Festival chooses a Shakespearean play that dares anyone to define its true nature as comedy, tragedy, or otherwise and stages a magnificently eye-popping, hilariously entertaining, and constantly unpredictable All’s Well That Ends Well that in fact ends well enough to send audience members out smiling huge grins while shaking their heads still amazed at what just happened.
Her famed physician father having just died, Helen is now an orphan serving the Countess of Rossillion, the young girl struck gaga with a teenage crush on the Countess’s only son, Bertram. Bertram is hot to leave home and finds his chance by heading to Paris to serve at the King’s Court. With the Countess’s blessing, Helen follows him, hoping to figure out a way to get the upper-born Bertram to notice lowly her. Fortunately for her, the king is deathly ill; she has a cure she learned from her father; a miracle occurs; and the king grants her one wish, which of course is, ‘Make Bertram my husband.’
|Royer Bokus, Kevin Kenerly & Daisuke Tsuji|
As Helen, Royer Bockus is all teen when we first meet her. She has a cheerleader’s enthusiasm for life’s adventures while also always being only a Kleenex box away from bawling her eyes out at the cruelties life throws her way. Her moods swing wildly, but her one constant is an absolute infatuation of a boy she has barely seen, much less met or talked to. Her dyed hair somewhere between pink and salmon, her over-sized glasses, and the t-shirt with its imprinted “MISFIT” speak volumes of her bold, fearless nature that wins out time and again over her proneness to crumble into tears.
|Crisofer Jean, Daisuke Tsuji & Al Espinosa|
The focus of her sudden love is equally stubborn and resolved about his own bachelor/soldier course in life, but Bertram (Daisuke Tsuji) lacks yet the maturity or the judgment of the wife he has rejected. His best friend and companion in love and war, Parolles, is known by everyone else as a lie, a cheat, and a obnoxious show-off (much less a coward) – all of which Bertram does not seem to see. Al Espinosa’s Parolles struts around making street-cool moves like a cocky peacock with his heavy gold chain, expensive high-tops, and colorful ribbons tied up and down the arms of his over-sized, white jacket. His Parolles will time and again be a highlight of the evening as he parades his baseless braggadocio and battles others using his well-honed weapons of sex-implied puns and jabs. When he is so quick to betray in a wildly hilarious scene friend, king, and country in order to save his own neck, we cannot help but at least slightly both admire and feel sorry for the jerk.
And with full abound of boys who think they are men, he and Bertram continually buck the advice of wiser others and set out to sow their reckless oats on the fields of war and the beds of local girls. In the end and unlike Helen, Bertram moves little on the scale of maturing beyond his impetuous ways still full of teenage ego and self-centeredness, with Daisuke Tsuji totally succeeding in portraying a physically handsome but unattractive-in-manners Bertram who will raise all kinds of questions as to how much he has actually grown and matured to be supposedly well in the play’s end.
The OSF stage is also populated with a host of other characters, noble and not, who each leave their marks in the audience’s mind. Vilma Silva is the calm, compassionate Countess of Rossillion whose love for Helen is entirely genuine and whose exasperation with her son, Bertram, is not unlike many mothers who find their children often doing exactly the opposite of what they want. She is advised by an old, family friend, Lafew, with Cristofer Jean deliciously presenting a sharp-tongued, self-righteous, wise man who dresses more like a foolish fop and who spits out his cynicism for present trends while remembering how good it once was in the bygone past.
Speaking of wise, Kevin Kenerly is a judicious, kind-at-heart King of France who goes from a dying invalid to a rock-star dancer, who is generous with his gratitude but quick to strike harshly at disloyalty – even condemning his only son. His Royal Highness comes across often as a nice neighbor next door who sometimes dresses up as a field marshaling general or who occasionally dons the robes of his kingdom ready to reign forth proudly.
|Royer Bokus, Brooke Ishibashi & Lauren Modica|
Tracy Young directs this complicated jumble of unlikely events, mix-ups, and resolutions by adding layers and layers of more complexity that never fail to delight in an atmosphere often resembling a carnival with its multiple side shows all performing at once. High above, a pianist plays on her French-blue piano the tunes that she is creating often on the spot (throwing wadded rejects out her window), musical numbers of many genres that promote a young girl’s falling quickly in love or accompany a king’s granting a girl’s wish for that love.
On the floor of the stage, we witness a “Pick a Bachelor” game show as Helen looks for a hubby; we see war protestors with their homemade banners as solders parade by; and we witness a miracle cure of the king that involves a whole nation of folks scattered all around the stage as his cured ills are mirrored by a healing of all. The Director implants dozens, no hundreds of fun, fantastical, and simply fabulous effects to highlight and expand Shakespeare’s scripted words, with many of the most clever moves being ones that keeps bringing this tale of the early 1600s into today’s 2019 (pizza, anyone?). Particularly spanning both eras are all the messages and letters that are being written, sent, received, and replied by everyone at all levels of the stage throughout the entire evening, reminding at least me of our current, constant proneness to text back-and-forth no matter what else is happening around us.
The director’s mastery of the tongue-in-cheek is supported by a creative team bubbling with superb ingenuity. Alex Jaeger’s costumes mix eras, nationalities, class ranks, and serious/silly with color schemes proudly declaring in the end that this story is French, French, French. The last can also be said of Carolina Ortiz Herrera’s imaginative lighting design whose deeply hued colors pour forth the French flag’s dyes from nooks and crannies as well as flooding the entire, vast arena of the Allen Elizabethan Theatre. Mariana Sanchez has a heyday in designing scenic elements large and small, from a garden of irises that remind us of the French fleur-de-lys to an Italian-colored military tent that suddenly rises twenty-to-thirty feet high in the air.
Perhaps the most ingenuous decision by Tracy Young is the choice to leave behind for a few minutes the words of The Bard, allowing the full cast to perform in silent an extended denouement that resolves – or not – the question if all in fact ends well that ends well. When the King returns in hoody and jeans following this stage-filling mime to solicit “your gentle hand lend us,” we in the audience can do nothing less than express with our standing ovation our content that yes, OSF’s 2019 All’s Well That Ends Well has in fact ended quite well.
Rating: 5 E
All’s Well That Ends Well continues through October 13, 2019 in the Allen Elizabethan Theatre at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. Tickets are available at www.osfashland.org.
Photos by Jenny Graham