by Lynn on July 30, 2016

in The Passionate Playgoer


In High Park, Toronto, Ont.

Written by William Shakespeare
Directed by Ted Witzel
Set by Teresa Przybylski
Costumes by Shawn Kerwin
Lighting by Oz Weaver
Sound by Lyon Smith
Cast: Kaleb Alexander
Frank Cox-O’Connell
Raechel Fisher
Nicky Guadagni
Marvin L, Ishmael
Mina James
Rachel Jones
Qasim Khan
Kyle McWatters
Alon Nashman
Rose Tuong

A concept that runs amok and renders this tricky play into a farcical lump of witlessness, and the predominant lack of facility with the language doesn’t help.

The Story. Helen is in love with Prince Bertram but he wants nothing to do with her. She grew up in the court of his parents and loved him from afar. Her father was a noted doctor. Perhaps the entitled young prince thought she was too lowborn. Helen is also the ward of his mother, the Countess Rossillion. In any case he doesn’t return her love. Bertram prepares to go off to fight for France.

Helen hears that the King of France is ill. She has learned her father’s medical tricks and is sure she can cure the King. Once she does that she will ask that the King makes Bertram marry her. It comes to pass that indeed Helen cures the King and grants her wish. Bertram is horrified and runs off with a parting challenge that is pretty clear he wants nothing to do with her. Helen follows him to Italy and things get rather convoluted from there. Helen is one determined woman.

The Production. While the production begins with the funeral of Bertram’s father, it’s obvious director Ted Witzel will not be saddled with anything as sentimental as a mournful grief. He has the Countess Rossillion (Nicky Guadagni) saunter around the space, mopey and not quite grieving. Perhaps it’s the presence of Lavatch (Rachel Jones) noted in the program as ‘the other woman,’ clown, and metatheatrical device that’s making her testy. The Countess refers to Lavatch as ‘slut’ and wants her removed. Lavatch in turn is a chorus of sorts. She croons songs throughout the production with supposed advice or comment on the world. It all sounds like so much esoteric drivel. I guess Shakespeare’s words are not enough to explain what is going on for Witzel’s vision.

When Helen shows up to cure the King she’s dressed in a form-fitting skimpy nurse’s outfit, (shades of burlesque and porn movies) with red crosses along the edge of the hem so we are aware she’s a medical person. She has the King spread-eagled over a chair, butt in the air upstage. She holds a formidable cordless drill aloft and gives a few pulses to show it works nicely. I detect something bulbous on the end of the drill and assume it’s a dildo because what else would it be in this production? Helen applies it to the King’s backside. He clenches and groans but she removes what has been the problem. In Shakespeare’s play it’s a fistula. In Witzel’s concept it’s a ring. In any cast he’s cured and grants Helen her wish to marry, a really reluctant Bertram.

There are schemes to reveal the disloyalty of Parolles (Qasim Khan); the trick of making Bertram think he’s sleeping with one woman when he’s really sleeping with his wife. And incredibly, it all works out happily for everybody even though the happy ending is not earned. Ridiculous.

I am grateful to Kaleb Alexander as Bertram and Frank Cox-O’Connell in the small part of Dumaine 1 because they at least have a handle on how to speak the language of the play. The rest are drowning in a sea of confusion on how to handle the punctuation, let alone the poetry. I don’t think it unreasonable to expect that if you are doing Shakespeare anywhere you should at least have actors who know how to handle the lingo.

Comment. The title All’s Well That Ends Well is ironic. Shakespeare being cute. Interpretation is fine. It’s miss-interpretation that drives me bats. This production is simplistic, misogynistic (a drill with a dildo? Really? In which Helen looks like she’s dropped from a porn movie?), self-indulgent, and doesn’t serve the play. Feh.

Presented by Canadian Stage

Opened: July 17, 2016.
Closes: September 4, 2016.
Cast: 11; 6 men, 5 women.
Running Time: 1 hour, 45 minutes.

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