Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Margin Notes: All's Well That Ends Well

Elizabeth C.J. Roberts and Kariana Sanchez
as the Widow and Diana.
Photo by Allison Stock.

Seen on: Thursday, 12/06/18.
My grade: B-

Plot and Background
Helena, daughter of a deceased doctor and ward of the Countess of Roussillon, loves the Countess's son Bertram, though he barely notices her. After she cures the ailing king, she is offered her choice of husbands, and she chooses Bertram--who reluctantly weds her, then immediately flees to the war in Italy and starts wooing a local girl, Diana. Helena follows and bed trick hijinks ensue. Hedgepig Ensemble is a company which "elevates the voices of all women by reimagining the classics."

What I Knew Beforehand
Weirdly, this is a play I didn't know beforehand, aside from having heard a monologue or two.


Play: Emily Lyon's director's note in the program acknowledges that All's Well is a problem play (boy is it ever), then places Helena's plight in the context of our country's current situation, which includes the #MeToo movement, 45, and the midterm election results. And I have to say, that's a weird context for me. What's interesting about the play is the way it gender-flips problematic tropes that are walking red flags in the #MeToo movement, but that doesn't necessarily reflect well on anyone. Helena loves Bertram, who doesn't love her (which she has to realize on some level), but forces him to marry her anyway; when she pursues him after his flight, she tricks him into sleeping with her, which is pretty damn rapey. But we're used to seeing these tropes with the men disregarding the woman's autonomy and consent. I think this narrative would have been difficult for me to watch, whichever way the disregarding went. And by the time we reach the conclusion, the supposed ending-well which makes all the rest well (as the title indicates), it's just so hard to buy why anyone would love either Helena or Bertram, much less why they would love each other (and don't get me started on Helena's final reveal, in a glamorous dress, hearkening to everyone's favorite moment in teen romcoms, when the geeky girl takes off her glasses, puts on a dress, and suddenly jock boy is in love).

Cast: The cast is fine, though at least at the performance I saw, could remove a bit of air from the performance (a few too many times a beat would finish, and then the performers would be visibly waiting for the next to start). Basil Rodericks is the real standout, fully embodying the King's physical distress, then strutting with purple-velvetted majesty once his health is restored (even his later doubling as one of the soldiers is excellent full work, completely differentiated physically and vocally from the King). Also of note are Desiree Baxter's muted and loving mien as the grieving but benevolent Countess, Andy Baldeschwiler's wily Lafeu, Elizabeth C.J. Roberts's seasoned Widow (a breath of fresh air after a first act too full of testosterone), and Gregory Jon Phelps's Parolles, who goes from confident bluster to sniveling cowardice in his gulling scene. As the couple at the center, Sara Hymes and Martin Lewis have the onerous task of playing two rather unlikable protagonists, and they do their darnedest to fight for them.

Design: Anna Driftmier's set design, a wall made of patchwork velvet, a dart of carpet, a solid wooden table covered with a drape of cobalt, has several surprises in store, all of whose initial reveal delight, though they sometimes result in an encumbrance to the performers. Jamie Gross's costume design had some pleasing moves as well (the King, you guys. I loved it), though I was a bit distracted by the lack of uniformity when the men were all in, well, uniform.


Running: Now playing at The Gene Frankel Theatre (Hedgepig Ensemble) - Opening: December 6, 2018. Closing: December 15, 2018.
Category: straight play
Length: 2 hours, 20 minutes, including intermission.

Creative Team

Playwright: William Shakespeare
Director: Emily Lyon Assistant Director: Danielle Cohn
Designers: Anna Driftmier (Set), Jamie Gross (Costume), Charlotte McPherson (Lighting), Carsen Joenk (Sound), Danya Martin (Dramaturg), Andrew Hutcheson (Text Coach).
Cast: Andy Baldeschwiler, Desiree Baxter, Sara Hymes, Jory Murphy, Gregory Jon Phelps, Basil Rodericks, Thomas Valdez, Martin Lewis, Kariana Sanchez, Elizabeth Roberts.

Basil Rodericks and Sara Hymes as the King of France and Helena, with
Andy Baldeschwiler as Lafeu. Photo by Allison Stock.

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