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A CurtainUp Review
All's Well That Ends Well
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.