This Rude Mechanicals’ production of one of Shakespeare’s ‘problem’ plays – All’s Well That Ends Well – is an example of the fact that if you have great writing and a great cast, you don’t need much else.
Set Designer Eric Honour keeps it minimal: the only set pieces are a couple of tables, benches and a small couch.They are covered with fabrics that let us know where we are (France, the home of the Countess, Italy, etc.). Lighting Designer Jeff Poretsky provided a few lighting effects. But it works because this production concentrated on the acting and the Bard’s words, and some gender-bending adds to the uniqueness of this All’s Well That Ends Well.
Sarah Richardson’s costumes are ribbons, hats, and capes that hint at station in society (fool, king, lower level royalty, etc.). The actors wear, not just modern dress, but their own clothing (some in jeans, others in skirts).
The wonderful characters created by the Bard soon transform us back in time. The depth and strength of Shakespeare’s women roles keep us transfixed. The plot itself is familiar: there are tricks, deceptions, comic relief, and a humorous fool.
Right from the start we wonder the attraction Helena (Grace Baker) has for Bertram (Charlie Green). Bertram is a shallow, snobbish womanizer who is not only untouched by the attractive and intelligent Helena, but disdains her and mistreats her.
The problem of dealing with Bertram’s unlikeable personality is dealt with in a few ways. Here he is played as a very young man, and therefore, we can understand his not wanting to commit to the fair Helena and hope the young lord is able to mature later. Charlie Green successfully captures the bewilderment of Bertram caught in the tricks of Helena and her accomplices. At the end his is like a fly in a spider’s web, wondering how he got in this predicament and knowing he can’t get out.
Grace Baker does a magnificent job in the role of Helena. She is charming, intelligent, witty, and very clever. We not only believe she is able to dupe Bertram but also the King of France. Her tricks are always for the good, and she is very likeable, not only to the other characters, but to the audience as well. Right from the opening all her attributes are made clear by Baker and keep the audience involved in the plot.
Josh Engel is a standout as The Clown. He uses body English to help the audience understand some of the bawdy Elizabethan puns. His hilarious scene with the Countess (Lorraine Bouchard) is one of the funniest in the show.
The other comic relief is provided by Ray Wallis, who plays Parolles. Parolles is a little bit Falstaff, a little bit Iago, and a little bit Bottom. Wallis keeps him a likeable survivor who is just trying to stay alive in war, while staying in good favor with those royals who feed, house, and clothe him.
Jaki Demarest plays the King of France (They use the female pronouns when talking to her). Demarest does a fine job in showing her nobility and also her loyalty to Helena. I really enjoyed her scene with Helena when Helena makes her unusual request for saving the royal’s life.
Lorraine Bochard (The Countess) and Sam David (Lafeu) are comfortable with the dialogue and also add appropriate body and facial gestures in rounding out these stock characters. Their lines are often just there to tell us about the plot, but these two add more than that to these roles.
The same is true for the others in the supporting roles of Steward/Soldier (Trevor Jones), First Lady Dumaine (Lynda Clark), Second Lady Dumaine (Spencer Nelson) and Widow (Moira Parham). They all brought a little extra to their portrayals.
Diana Dzikewicz is excellent as the young Diana, who is essential to the deceptions in the play. She was especially effective in the scenes with the dominant Helena.
Some Shakespearean purists may realize the play has been cut for this production, and may question the gender-bending decisions, but this amazing production helps keep this piece of the Bard’s work alive and vital for today’s audience. This is thanks to the fine direction of Liana Olear and fine cast. She concentrates on character development and pacing. The timing of much of the humor is so important in this play and here it moves quickly and never slows down.
Don’t be a fool and miss The Rude Mechanicals’ All’s Well That End Well.
Running Time: Two hours, with an intermission.
All’s Well That Ends Well plays January 16-23, 2015 at The Rude Mechanicals performing at the Howard County Center for the Arts—8510 High Ridge Road, in Ellicott City, MD. Tickets can be purchased at the door or online.