Theater Review: PSF season ‘Ends Well’
All’s Well That Ends Well.
It’s one of William Shakespeare many titles and phrases that have entered the lexicon.
“All’s Well That Ends Well,” primary source material for the phrase, on stage through Aug. 5, brings down the curtain on the 2018 Pennsylvania Shakespeare Festival (PSF) at DeSales University, Center Valley.
There is no curtain to bring down or up in the three-quarter round Schubert Theatre. Nor is there a director, scenic designer, costume desiger, lighting designer, or sound designer.
In the parlance of the theater, this is an “original practices production,” presented in the manner of what is believed to be the way Shakespeare’s plays were staged in his lifetime.
There are the actors and the words of Shakespeare. And that’s quite enough.
There was one other addition opening night July 24, the performance seen for this review: thunder, which boomed as if on cue during the opening scene.
Lafew (Anthony Lawton) didn’t flinch, holding forth in all earnestness as one of the play’s seemingly rational figures.
Countess Of Rossillion (Susan Riley Stevens) is the second adult “in the room” in the play, which takes place in Rossillion (ne Rossillon) and Paris, France, and Marcellus (ne Theater of Marcellus, Rome) and Florence (capital of the Tuscany region), Italy.
The third adult on the stage is none other than the King of France (Greg Wood), who undergoes a miraculous cure through a potion administered by Helena (Emiley Kiser). Wood, who can command the stage even when sitting down, walks again.
While it isn’t precisely Love Potion No. 9, in thanks, the king “gifts” Helena the hand of Bertram, Count of Rossillion (Spencer Plachy), who when it counts, has his own ideas about his hand, picks up the sword and heads off to battle. The metaphor, to quote modern rock balladeer Pat Benatar that “Love Is A Battlefield” from her 1983 hit, is not lost.
Helena, on the other hand, is lost without love and retreats to the protective ward of the countess.
Meanwhile, Bertram has his own designs on Diana (Stephanie Hodge). There ensues complications, machinations and vexations worthy of a Shakespearean plot (and this is one).
While the always excellent Wood, Stevens and Lawton give fine performances, exhalting Shakespeare’s language and providing, along with Plachy, who gives the play’s most vigorous dramatic turn, the gravitas necessary for the plot’s spine, it’s the comic relief that remains the play’s takeway.
Throughout, there are huge swaths of dialogue. Amidst and through and around these declarations of philosophy, love and oaths, there are lots of shenanigans, courtesy masterful funnymen: Parolles (Jim Helsinger), and Lavatch (Eric Hissom), the latter billed as a Clown In The Household Of The Countess (Clowns-In-Residence apparently were a thing well before HBO standup comedy specials, Netflix and Twitter when clowns of all kinds are at our fingertips.).
“All’s Well That Ends Well” tetters on the edge of tragedy and laughter, but mostly laughter.
Helsinger is the most put-upon, with his Parolles on parole from dignity. Helsinger is fearless and resourceful, including a laugh-outloud bit involving his sword stuck in a door. Helsinger is the master of foppery, tomfoolery and self-depricating comedy. Helsinger is a comedy hell-slinger.
Hissom maintains his equanimity with a mixture of comity, song and loose-limbed body language, including a nifty hat-juggling, that, in summation, says, “Hey, I got this.” To Helsinger’s flap, Hissom is unflappable.
The solid cast includes Akeem Davis, Steven Dennis, Andrew Goebel, Anelise Diaz, Amy Rose Johnson, Ethan Larsen and Jhalil Younger.
In a season that opened with the musical “Ragtime,” this rag-tag company of actors brings PSF’s 27th season to a satisfying close.
Greg Wood wraps it all up with a masterful epilogue. Indeed, “All’s Well That Ends Well.”
Tickets: Labuda Center for the Performing Arts lobby box office, DeSales University, 2755 Station Avenue, Center Valley; pashakespeare.org/psf_tickets.php; 610-282-WILL (9455)