Tuesday, July 15, 2008

All's Well that Ends Well at the Old Globe

This will sound a little like cheer-leading.
When I was at Berkeley, a professor who is a famous critic told his class to read "All's Well that Ends Well," warning them that they would hate it. And what do you know? They all came back to class ready to talk about how much it sucked. They were intelligent students who knew how to scoff at something they didn't understand with big words, but it was a horrible display of wits steered by the power of suggestion. I learned two things watching intelligent people burn a play they'd only just read:
  1. The Republicans might be right about the way many political opinions are formed in college.
  2. No one should ever talk about a play they have not seen produced on stage.
"All's Well that Ends Well" was the best play at the The Old Globe Shakespeare Festival in San Diego this year. It's set in what I would call a Victorian era Paris and Florence. In France, it's all dark wood and lamps, with nice suits. The French King's wheelchair is one of the most beautiful props I have ever seen, and it only comes out once, I think. It looks authentic but how could it be? The King (James R. Winkler) is really sick when he is in that wheelchair, and believably healthy after Helena's miracle. It kind of feels like a real miracle has just been performed.
In Florence, it's all peasant dresses, soldiers, and a giant statue of Michelangelo's David, which got a huge laugh, and there was plenty of Italian flag waving. Great change of setting.
Bertram (Graham Hamilton) and the Countess (Kandis Chapell) were great—everyone was great. But when Helena (Kimberly Parker Green) gets her first speech, I was like, OMFG! Kimberly Parker Green is a very powerful actor who commands the stage like she owned the whole theater or maybe the whole world. She gave me goosebumps twice! That hardly ever happens. You want everything to work out for her Helena and when it finally does, you don't care about what reading students will say about the undeniably weird ending. All's well! and that's great! because we want it to end well for Kimberly Parker Green's Helena!

Parolles (Bruce Turk) was another thing that made the season. Shakespeare likes to push his audiences into joining in on the torture of his most loathsome characters only to make us feel bad about it later as we learn that they aren't that bad after all. It takes a really good actor to make the trick work. A good Malvolio will make an audience want to cry. A good Parolles in this case actually made many in the audience cry. Remarkable. His warning to braggarts is just heartbreaking, and we all want things to get better for Parolles, too. I think Bruce Turk might be a genius. He was also wonderful as Ford in Merry Wives.

They did one weird thing with a voice-over type reading of the letters, when the characters who wrote the letters come out aloft and say the lines rather than the person who is reading them. That was little lame I thought, but not too bad. I was on the left, and I think maybe director Darko Tresnjak forgot about us over there, as we weren't always able to see everything. But that wasn't horrible either. Everything else was marvelous. The sets, costumes, even the hair, were perfect. Lavatch (Eric Hoffman) was great, the song before intermission in Italian was fun, the reappearance of Helena, everything was great. And everything that could have gone wrong, didn't, and it all ended well, and everyone was happy when Helena and Bertram kissed.

Yay!


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