Now that Showtime has wrapped The Tudors maybe they would be interested in. . .The Elizabethans! My idea for the first episode is sort of I Love Lucy at the Globe Theatre. Beautiful scheming women, an undeserving recalcitrant man who gets the girl instead of the drubbing he has worked so hard to earn. As usual Shakespeare has anticipated me by more than 500 years with his problematic All’s Well That Ends Well, which itself is based on one of Boccaccio’s short stories in his mid-fourteenth century collection The Decameron.
The Savage Rose production of Shakespeare’s play opened last night on the Nancy Niles Sexton stage of Walden Theatre. In keeping with the authenticity artistic director J. Barrett Cooper is seeking for his company the scenery was suggestive and flexible, the props few, the costumes beautiful and characteristic. It is evident that Cooper focused his attention primarily on his actors’ interpretation of the language. This successful strategy convincingly transported the audience from the small black box theatre to the French countryside, the court in Paris and Florentine battlefields.
Originally conceived, I believe, as a comedy All’s Well That Ends Well has been labeled a “problem play.” The difficulty lies primarily in the character of Count Bertram, played here by Mike Slaton, and the slavish devotion of Helena, the orphaned daughter of the family doctor portrayed by Kelly Moore. Bertram is the definition of a cad and an extremely unsympathetic protagonist. Helena, on the other hand is so wise and beautiful it is difficult to understand what she sees in the nobleman, noble in name only. Both Slaton and Moore have made good choices for their characters to overcome these challenges and with a little more risk on their parts as actors could deliver outstanding performances. J. Barrett Cooper who plays both the King of France and Interpreter sets the bar for the company both as an actor and director. A physical actor Cooper’s best often comes out in his facial expressions and body language; he is a master of subtle embellishment that enhances the poetry of Shakespeare’s lines but never impinges.
Six years after introducing Falstaff to the world in Henry IV, part 1 Shakespeare gives us Parolles, a follower of Bertram. Like his predecessor Parolles is a knave and a coward, but lacks the genuine love for his ward that makes us, in turn, love him. Neill Robertson, fighting a distractingly bad hair piece on opening night, gives us a comic villain an audience can love to hate. Robertson’s comic timing, business, and turn of phrase are remarkable and well-worth the price of admission, which could be seen as a sinister compliment considering the tickets are so inexpensive. Parolles’s sparring matches with the old lord Lafew, well-played by Andrew Epstein, are among the funniest moments of the evening. I could have wished that Parolles’s changed circumstances at the end were more evident in his attire, but this is probably a budgetary consideration rather than an artistic one.
If there was a disappointment to the evening it would be in Laurene Scalf’s handling of the Countess of Roussillion, Bertram’s mother. This is one of the greatest female characters in all of Shakespeare offering an actor a virtuosic opportunity to explore. Scalf gives a yeomanly performance hinting at a greater interpretation than she produced opening night.
I don’t give ratings, but I will say that J. Barrett Cooper and company have created a wonderful evening of theatre that should not be missed.
All’s Well That Ends Well runs through March 19. Tickets for most performances are $15 and may be purchased at the door (cash/checks). For more about this production and the Savage Rose Classical Theatre Company go to www.savagerosetheatre.com.
This is the final production of the company’s second full season and I look forward to announcing their third at www.Arts-Louisville.com which will debut on or before April 10. Check this space for more about Savage Rose and the Play Reading Series Words, Words, Words that premieres April 3 with Rostand’s Cyrano de Bergerac.