Shakespeare & Company’s production of William Shakespeare’s “All’s Well That Ends Well” is not only messy theater, it is an insult to the Bard’s masterful language. Despite some excellent performances, director Tina Packer has exhumed this already flawed play and, if possible, blemished it even more.
‘All’s Well That Ends Well’
WHERE: Shakespeare & Company, 70 Kemble St., Lenox, Ma.
WHEN: Through August 31
HOW MUCH: $60-$22
MORE INFO: (413) 637-1199
There is one song in Shakespeare’s original text. Packer has unwisely added nine more, some based on the poet’s writings. With original music by Bill Barclay, the songs — often annoying and sometimes distracting — are dreadfully performed by Nigel Gore, who plays Lavache, “a world-weary troubadour,” according to the program.
The first part of the play is fairly straightforward. Helena, magnificently played by Kristin Villanueva, is the young daughter of a physician and ward to the Countess of Rossillion (Elizabeth Ingram). Helena has fallen in love with the Countess’ son, Bertram (Jason Asprey). He leaves for Paris to serve the King of France (Timothy Douglas) who is on the verge of death. To be near Bertram, Helena writes to the king, saying that she may be able to cure his illness with her father’s medicines (one of which was known to bring life to a stone). The two make a deal. If Helena fails to cure the king, she will die. If she does cure him, she may choose any man in the realm to be her husband.
The second half of the play is less successful, with numerous sub-plots and cases of mistaken identity, exchanges of rings, plus the infamous “bed-trick” that Shakespeare used in “Measure for Measure.” To be fair, the playwright, who seems to have fashioned the play out of bits and pieces of his other works, has created some delightful scenes, including the device used to bring out the true nature of Parolles (Kevin O’Donnell), an outrageous fop and follower of Bertram. O’Donnell plays the comedy for all it’s worth, and his downfall is completely convincing.
But it is Villanueva’s performance that steals the show. If Helena’s suffering over the spoiled, spiteful, adulterous Bertram seems hard to believe, her acting of it is sublime. And if the ending, one of Shakespeare’s glorious weddings, seems equally hard to believe considering Helena’s suffering, Villanueva makes it believable. She plays Helena, like so many of her counterparts in Shakespeare’s plays, as a 17th-century feminist, taking control of her life and surmounting seemingly impossible obstacles. But even her impassioned performance cannot save this production.
Director Packer has attempted to enliven play with music. If it were well-written or even well-performed, the device might have worked. But she has neglected important elements such as paying attention to a cohesiveness of acting styles, the making of interesting stage pictures, and even encouraging eye-contact among the actors.
When you see the title “All’s Well That Ends Well,” don’t avoid it, for it is rarely seen. Just avoid Shakespeare & Company’s production of it.