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Actress Brings Passion To 'Lesser' Play

(c) Daily Press

July 13, 1993

By Tony Gabriele

WILLIAMSBURG — Shakespeare scholars have labeled "All's Well That Ends Well" as one of the Bard's "problem plays." So what, you ask, is the problem?

Well, here's what one female patron said after the end of Friday's premiere of the play at the Virginia Shakespeare Festival:

"I didn't want her to wind up with him! He's a jerk!"

The course of true love never runs smooth in a Shakespeare comedy, but rarely does it take such an odd and confounding path as in this play. Still, "problem" though there may be, the VSF's energetic cast of professionals and amateurs provides an entertaining look at one of the less-frequently-seen entries in the Shakespearean canon.

Indeed, the casual Shakespeare fan may be unfamiliar with the plot of "All's Well." So here, as they say in Hollywood, is the pitch:

"Poor French girl is in love with rich guy - he's a count - but he's not interested in her. Girl saves the life of the King of France, and as her reward, the king commands the guy to marry her. He does, but then he immediately runs off and joins the army. In fact, he writes to her that he'll never live with her, unless she performs a couple of impossible tasks. But the girl doesn't give up. She finds the guy, then she comes up with a clever trick that will make him come back to her."

Bertram, the young swell who's the object of this affection, is a jerk indeed - heedless of others' feelings, not above lying and ready to swap a treasured family heirloom for a roll in the hay. He has one good thing going for him in this production: He's played by the boyishly handsome Mike Kindle, who can deliver that Elizabethan dialogue with clarity and intelligence. Kindle's portrayal manages to suggest a hint of better qualities underneath Bertram's callowness and makes his last-minute conversion to true love at least partially believable.

Maybe Shakespeare's trying to tell us that the love of a good woman can redeem even jerks.

The good woman Helena, steadfast and resourceful in her love for Bertram, is the core of the drama. Jennifer-Scott Mobley gives the demanding role the gumption it requires, showing the strong will within the humble exterior; less visible, though, is the depth of passion that impels her to the extraordinary measures she takes in the name of love.

"All's Well" may not be one of the Bard's best - its poetry rarely reaches the heights he achieves elsewhere, and it features one of the least witty of Shakespeare's clowns - but even second-tier Shakespeare has its treasures. The scenes where Bertram and Helena confront each other at court and where the play reaches its climax are superb drama. They're made even better by the presence of Steven Culp as the King of France. Culp (who's playing Brutus on other nights in VSF's "Julius Caesar") makes his king a commanding figure, but with warmth and good humor.

And there is a distinctively Shakespearean creation on hand in the character of Parolles, a deceiving blowhard, showoff, and consistent source of bad advice. "A young man married is a man that's marred," he tells Bertram, urging him to head for the wars after his forced marriage. As amusingly played by Francis J. Gercke, he's a bundle of smarmy energy - it's like he just can't wait to tell his next lie. The scene where he gets his comeuppance at the hands of Bertram's fellow officers is a comic highlight.

Director James Luse moves the play along briskly, and he makes his cast expend vast amounts of energy to add physical comedy to the show.

Sometimes the results are more frenetic than fun, but Luse's best inventions - notably a troop of foot-stomping Florentine soldiers who cadence-count in lunatic Italian - are a hoot.

The play's setting has been moved to the early 19th century - inspired by the story's egalitarian theme, perhaps? - which enables costume designer Patricia Wesp to dress the cast in lovely and witty period outfits.

So thanks to VSF for continuing to offer us "lesser" Shakespeare along with his greatest hits. There are delights to be found here, too - and, hey, you can't keep doing "As You Like It" forever.

FOR THE RECORD - Published correction ran Wednesday, July 14, 1993.

A review of the Virginia Shakespeare Festival's production of "All's Well That Ends Well" in Tuesday's LifeStyles section erroneously identified Patricia Wesp as the show's costume designer. She is the scenic designer. The costume designer is B. Christine McDowell.

The Virginia Shakespeare Festival will perform "Julius Caesar" at the College of William and Mary's Phi Beta Kappa Memorial Hall at 8 tonight and at 8 p.m. July 15, 17, 21 and 23, with a 2 p.m. matinee on July 25. "All's Well That Ends Well" will be performed at 8 p.m. July 14, 16, 20, 22 and 24, with a 2 p.m. matinee July 18. Tickets are $10 for one show, $18 for both. Call 221-2674 for telephone reservations.

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