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A CurtainUp Review
All's Well That Ends Well

Get the ring upon my finger, which never shall come off, and show me a child begotten of thy body that I am father to.— Bertram's challenge to his new wife, Helena.

Yet I am thankful. If my heart were great
'Twould burst at this, Captain I'll be no more
But I will eat and drink, and sleep as soft as Captain shall. Simply the thing I am
Shall make me live.
— Parolles accepting his own reality.
All's Well
Jessica Frey, Dan Tracy
(Photo credit: William Marsh)
Scholars and critics (not always on the same page) often approach All's Well that Ends Well with slightly pinched, albeit, respectful noses as if encountering some sort of unspecified Shakespearean road kill. What is it? Romance, comedy, tragedy? Not fitting neatly into any category has earned it the reputation of being a difficult play. Difficult for whom? Sure the three principal characters, Bertram (Dan Tracy), Helena (Jessica Frey) and Parolles (Jason O'Connell) are not innocent babes, but they're not murderers or usurpers of thrones. All they want is a little TLC — some attention, love, respect — maybe even adulation. It's not their goals that are suspect; it's their somewhat amoral, self-centered dedication to them that seems to make them unappetizing. That is, unless you're like me, and enjoy seeing crafty people beating the system and the odds.

Obviously aware of the play's reputation, director Russell Treyz has tackled All's Well with broad strokes of comedy and music. He's envisioned the production as the work of a band of wandering troubadours who have just happened to wander by the festival tent at show time. The cast of eight opens the evening with a mini-song festival before moving on to the Bard's contributions.

Let me note quickly that the eight actors portray eighteen different roles. Only three, the principals, play only one. In addition, director Treyz has some of the female roles played by male actors. His reasoning? First, to follow Elizabethan tradition (well enough); but also to underline the theme of Helena's struggle in a male-dominated world. (Say what?)

I'm not sure that having a man lurking beneath the skirts of other females necessarily suggests a conspiracy against her. Guys in dresses do provide predictable laughs, although when Bertram woos Diana (Jeff Gonzalez) things get confusing.

The plot? Helena pines for the handsome Bertram, who has dreams of elevating his position as a soldier and courtier, while Parolles just wants to preen and brag about his questionable exploits. Helena gets her chance when the desperately ill King of France (Richard Ercole) allows her to treat him with a medicine left her by her physical father. Miraculously cured, the King offers her the choice of any man in his the court as a husband. Not surprisingly she chooses Bertram who refuses to go along with the deal until threatened with banishment and worse. But Bertram has his own tricks and swears not to consummate the marriage until Helena manages to get a royal ring off his finger and also present him with a child he has fathered. How Helena achieves this (do you think the title is a plot spoiler?) is by a "bed trick." Well you see it, you'll get it.

, The cast is quite admirable, funny and speedy. There's an abundance (occasionally an overabundance) of costume and gender changes, but the approach is clearly meant to avoid any possibility of a sour or bittersweet taste.

Jessica Frey and Dan Tracy make a charming couple if one can overlook their characters mild defects. One of the festival's top bananas, Wesley Mann, is on hand to wring every yuk out of his roles as the smart lord, Lafew, the smartass clown, Lavatch, and the roly-poly "Old Widow of France."

Richard Ercole is a sympathetic King of France and hilarious as a soldier called upon to interrogate the captured Parolles using a variety of mangled foreign accents. Jason O'Connell as Parolles has the most complex role and he brings the proper balance of pathos and egomania to this rudderless blowhard. His recognition of his own inadequacies is most touchingly etched. In drag or out, Dan Matisa lends fine support, as does Jeff Gonzales as the strumpet-like Diana. A nice looking lord, he's not a beauty as a lady and one wonders what Bertram sees in her.

As usual at this festival, the production is scenic (courtesy of Mother Nature and the colorful costumes by Rebecca Lustig). I'm not sure who gets the credit for the delightful fake horses that galloped across the green, into the tent and even close enough to nuzzle those in the front row. If you've ever been put off by this play's supposed aura of "difficultness" be assured that element is nowhere to be seen. Instead, I found it a thoroughly jolly evening — a bit hammy some times but it's not King Lear — that plays on other nights.

All's Well That Ends Well
By William Shakespeare
Directed by Russell Treyz
Costume Design: Rebecca Lustig
Lighting Design: David Upton
Choreography: Lisa Rinehart
Sound Design/Musical Director: William Neal
Props Design: Sue Rees
Stage Manager: Maggie Davis
Cast: Dan Tracy (Bertram), Wesley Mann (Lafew), Jessica Frey (Helena), Richard Ercole (King of France), Jason O'Connell (Parolles), Ara Morton (Rinaldo), Jeff Gonzalez (Lord Dumaine,) Dan Matisa (Countess of Rosallion).
Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival Boscobel Restoration, Route 9, Garrison, New York
Through Sept. 1 (In repertory with The Three Musketeers and King Lear.)
Performances: Sundays through Thursdays at 7; grounds open for picnicking at 5; Fridays and Saturdays at 8, grounds open at 6. There is a concession stand offering wine, beverages, sandwiches, salads and desserts.
Tickets: Monday through Thursday $31 to $47; Friday and Sunday $37 to $63; Saturday $43 to $75. Discounts available on selected nights for seniors, students, children age 5-12, families and groups. Call the box office at (845) 265-9575, or purchase online at
Reviewed by Chesley Plemmons
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All's Well That Ends Well
All's Well That Ends Well - A thoroughly enjoyable evening from the Hudson Valley Shakespeare Company. . . Read More