By William Shakespeare. Directed by Rachel Ditor. A Bard on the Beach production. On the Studio Stage on Thursday, July 2. Continues until September 19
All’s Well ends well. The closing movement of this handsome production rockets through to a hilarious and moving finale. That doesn’t mean that director Rachel Ditor and her cast have ironed out all of the kinks in this notoriously problematic play, but I doubt anybody could.
Helena, the main character, remains an enigma. When she cures the King of France of a seemingly fatal affliction, he grants her permission to marry any man she chooses. She selects Bertram, the son of her protector, the Countess of Roussillon. Bertram is appalled that the orphaned daughter of a physician would presume to wed someone of his status. Forced to marry Helena despite his protests, he refuses to bed her and flees to war in Italy. To win him back, she resorts to a trick in which Bertram thinks that he is screwing the virtuous Italian virgin Diana, but is really impregnating his legal wife.
Bertram is a dink, so why does Helena insist on pursuing him? Craig Erickson, who plays Bertram in this Bard on the Beach production, is handsome, and lust clearly drives Helena. Still, you’d have to be very young or otherwise unsure of yourself to maintain such an enduring infatuation for this obvious cad—to be unable to distinguish between physical desirability and emotional worthiness.
Why, then, has director Ditor cast the mature Lois Anderson as Helena? Anderson has craft and talent to burn, but her age, which brings with it an assumption of experience, works against her here. Anderson gives us the character’s forcefulness: her sexual appetite and intelligence. And she shows us some of Helena’s vulnerability—when Bertram publicly rejects her, for instance. But where’s the deeper innocence—or is it ignorance—that truly puts Helena’s heart at risk?
Despite this unresolved issue, which is rooted in the text, this production shines. Scott Bellis mines the glittering gems of dark humour provided by the role of Parolles, a follower of Bertram’s who is an inveterate liar. Allan Morgan makes the courtier Lafew a flamboyant queen, which works especially well in the later going, when the production’s increasing pace provides a natural home for hysterical eccentricities. Duncan Fraser brings welcome gravitas and heart to the King of France. And newcomer Kayvon Khoshkam impresses mightily in a comic cameo as a French lord.
Mara Gottler’s Victorian costumes are exquisite, and Pam Johnson’s set, in which a laundry-filled courtyard transforms instantly into a military camp, is both pretty and inventive.
All’s Well is not often produced. Ditor’s smart, playful production provides an excellent opportunity to enjoy the script’s strengths.