THE BAFFLING ANTICS OF a WOMAN
Men have been reciting some version of “(w)itches be crazy” for decades, like its some sort of male motto or comforting excuse to remove themselves from blame or foreboding drama. And William Shakespeare was no exception. He, too, had no problem noting a female’s ability to be frustrating or conniving.
Shakespeare wasn’t afraid to pluck a woman out of her formal, expected sweetness and place her in reality…sometimes in the land of emotion-driven crazy town. In his The Taming of the Shrew, he features the independent and sharp-tongued Katherina—a possible feminist role model until she’s eventually broken by reverse psychology.
In All’s Well That Ends Well Shakespeare casts another headstrong woman, but with a much more modern (and feminist) approach, letting her manipulation win over the lead male.
In the play, which Triad Stage artistic director Preston Lane calls a counterpart to The Taming of the Shrew, Helena, the strong, clever female protagonist is capable of using her mind rather than sexy manipulation or male disguises to propel herself in life. She heals a sick king and earns the right to choose her own husband—a man she’s admired from afar for years.
Displeased with her lowly status and the forced marriage arrangement, the man refuses to give all of his love and actually runs off to war to escape her grasp. But Helena doesn’t give up. Instead she crafts a cunning plan to not only bring him back, but trap him in a relationship forever.
Triad Stage’s performance of the play last Friday took an interesting approach to what is called Shakespeare’s “problem play.”
Because Shakespeare’s plot was ahead of its time, the costumes designed by Bill Brewer relocates the characters to their proper time according to their mindset. Helena, for example, isn’t showcased in a 16th century dress, but rather 1920s attire, commenting on her forward-thinking, independence and break from the “stay at home” ideal of a woman.
Bertram, who refuses the arranged marriage and instead delights in his sexual freedom, wears a modern-day suit or tux (at least until he goes off to war). At times there are remnants of the Renaissance, like in the King’s crown and cloak, and of 19th century England in the Countess of Rossillion.
Be warned that their beauty can be distracting—at least for lace and shoe-loving women. At times I quit paying attention to the dialogue because I was too submerged in the details of some of the dresses of Helena and the Countess of Rossillion.
I’ll shamefully admit, however, that they were welcome distractions when my brain began to swirl with the poetic and flowery language of the playwright. The acting was wonderful, but remember, it’s still Shakespeare! Which means some lines eloquently glide right over your head.
The skilled cast did a wonderful job making the best, most cunning lines stand out, so you don’t miss out on a laugh. Beth Ritson (Countess of Rossillion) and Cinny Strickland (Widow Capilet) do a superb job drawing you into the performance with their facial expressions. David Ryan Smith (Parolles) adds a burst of energy to a play that at times seemed to drone-on simply because of the confusing language.
The set was another creative displacement. Its simplicity allowed the scene to change from a burial to a castle to a war zone. The background remained a constant blue with fluffy clouds and at the start of the play a projector moved the clouds and made the scenery more vivid. Accent lighting added slight changes to help change the setting and tone.
The floor of the stage was the most intriguing aspect, as it resembled the Moon Door from Game of Thrones, basically a big hole in the center of a marbled floor. The hole is used in a variety of ways to help change the setting, and you’ll find yourself waiting for someone to fall in. Does anyone fall in? Well, you’ll have to watch to find out.
Considering the stuffy language of Shakespeare, you’ll definitely need to have a little interest in the playwright to fully enjoy the show and not get completely lost. Read Preston Lane’s comments in the playbill, too. But anyone can enjoy the clever quips and overall energy of the show, as well as its historical significance. !
All’s Well That Ends Well performs at Triad Stage, 232 S. Elm St., this week through June 29. Tickets are $10-$48. For tickets and more information visit triadstage.org or call 272-0160.