All's Well That Ends Well

  • Our critic's rating:
    June 1, 2011

    Review by Tulis McCall

    There were a few things on my mind the other night at the Delacorte. They were on my mind because this production of All’s Well That Ends Well was taking up so little room.

    The first one was that the night in question was a perfect one. Cool and a little breezy.

    Second was that there will come a night not so pleasant, let’s say it will be 98 degrees or so, and these actors will still be out there in layers of clothing, performing their butts off. Bravo to them.

    The third was that it is a complete pleasure to listen to John Cullum, Tonya Pinkins and Daiken Matthews deliver Shakespeare. These three know what they are doing, and in their hands the tale being told is all about the heart. The rest of the cast could easily be excused from the proceedings because, with the exception of Carson Elrod as the Interpreter, and the Brothers Dumaine (Lorenzo Pisoni and Michael Hayden) they are not connected to the text in any meaningful way.

    This is the story of Helena, (Annie Parisse) the ward of the Countess of Rousillon (Tonya Pinkins) who has set her eye on the prized son Bertram (Andre Holland). Bertram however, looks upon Helena as his sister, and a distant one at that. His eye is toward the present war and the glory it will bring. He is off to conquer new lands and new women, not necessarily in that order.

    Helena, who cannot take “No” for an answer, travels to Paris, where the King of France (John Cullum) is running his war and ailing. There, using her dead father’s tools and teachings, she produces a remedy that cures the King and earns her the hand of any man she chooses. She chooses Bertram. The marriage is performed against his will, and he bolts out of town to the welcomed diversion of the war. Helena returns to the Countess where she receives a letter from Bertram telling her “No Way.” Still hard of hearing, Helena departs on a pilgrimage that follows Bertram’s path. On her journey she discovers his pursuit of a young woman Diana (Kristen Connolly) who is as honorable as she is lovely. She knows that Bertram is married and will not give in to his suite. Helena convinces Diana to join her in deceit that brings Helena to Bertram’s bed and uncovers his betrayal.

    In the mean time, the local fool Parolles (Reg Rogers) having joined the army to follow Bertram is about to be undone as well. His fellow soldiers suspect him of disloyalty and conceive a plot to prove it.

    Both men are blindfolded and undone but it is only Bertram who is forgiven by his now pregnant wife.

    The end.

    I would say WHO writes this stuff?” But we all know that. So the question is why tell the tale and why tell it with a production that lacks vigor, vibrancy and believability.

    Annie Parisse’s connection to the text is tenuous at best. She knows her lines and hits her marks, but that is all there is to her performance. This is extremely unfortunate, because the entire tale rests on our belief that Helena is truly in love with Bertram. Though we may not think as highly of him as she does we must wish her well on her journey. Helena has to seduce us as well as her husband. In this endeavor, Parisse does not succeed.

    The usually excellent Andre Holland seemed preoccupied. Reg Rogers was reprising his role as Tony Cavendish in The Royal Family. The rest of the cast does not have that much to do. Would that the trio of Cullum, Matthews and Pinkens were more central to this tale.

    Maybe it’s just the territory when a cast is in repertory. Every actor is working in two plays so who knows what is going on in their heads, especially when they are at the beginning of their runs. But ultimately it is their job, and the job of the director, to overcome this challenge.

    At the moment it is the challenge that is winning the battle. This is a disappointing night indeed. Not only does it not end well, it doesn’t begin or transition well either.

    Bring back the raccoons.

    (Tulis McCall)

    "Captivating production."
    Ben Brantley for the New York Times

    "Clear, classy and rich in emotions."
    Joe Dziemianowicz for the New York Daily News

    "Removes some, but not all, of the problems within Shakespeare's 'problem play.'"
    Elisabeth Vincentelli for the New York Post

    "Daniel Sullivan - the fine director whose staging here last season of 'The Merchant of Venice' with Al Pacino and Lily Rabe moved to Broadway - is not so blessed this time."
    Jeremy Gerard for the Bloomberg

    "Problem play ... remains a problem child."
    David Sheward for Back Stage

    "The incidental music ... has a charm and emotional resonance that, unfortunately, are totally missing from the story at the center of the play."
    Robert Feldberg for The Record

    "Well worth a visit."
    Michael Sommers for Newsroom Jersey

    "It's a pleasure just to hear the language of the play articulated so well by a well-versed cast."
    Marilyn Stasio for Variety

    External links to full reviews from popular press...

    New York Times - New York Daily News - New York Post - Bloomberg - Back Stage - The Record - Newsroom Jersey - Variety