All’s Well That Ends Well

By William Shakespeare
Directed by Daniel Sullivan
Featuring Tonya Pinkins, Andre Holland, Annie Parisse, John Cullum, Dakin Matthews
The Public Theater Delacorte Theater, Turtle Pond Central Park
production web site:

June 25, 2011 — July 30, 2011

Reviewed by Martha Wade Steketee
June 25, 2011

(L-R) Kristen Connolly, Dakin Matthews, John Cullum, Annie Parisse, Andre Holland, Tonya Pinkins. Photo: Elizabeth Lippman for The New York Times

Humidity laden air and cool evening breezes — it is Shakespeare in the Park.  Shakespeare in Edwardian dress on a set double-visioned, now hosting All’s Well and to host Measure for Measure in repertory with these actors beginning in a few days.  This particular evening we have class differences and maidens thwarted and collegial buffoonery and communities of women (nursing nuns and a widow with multiple daughters) that convene to seek a kind of revenge on behalf of a woman insulted.  The production resonates in larger political strokes this New York City Saturday after a late night Friday New York legislative session during which marriage rights were extended to couples of the same gender, and a Saturday before the Sunday Pride march.  All this real life informs and enhances a lightweight cultural comedy with social overtones (rights of women, arrogance of class).  Breathe it in, theatrical life’s breath.

In France (Rousillion and Paris) and Italy (Florence) soldiers and marriage ties are played out, underscoring that both are about power and will.  Helena (Annie Parisse), now orphaned daughter of a physician, is part of the household of the Countess (Tonya Pinkins), whose pampered and handsome son Bertram (Andre Holland) has caught her fancy.  Helena helps to heal the King with medicinal skills learned from her physician father, earning his deep gratitude.  The Countess is torn by this turn of events and Bertram runs from his arranged marriage (ordered by the King on behalf of Helena).  Ruses from Much Ado About Nothing are invoked (a late night assignation involving mistaken identities leads to last-minute gotcha moments) and a false funeral — all to flip the cards, turn the tables on Bertram.  Is Bertram the class-bound character worth all the trouble and do we believe that the relationship between Betram and Helena will survive into the future?  Who cares — the ride is lovely.

First, the men.  John Cullum‘s king grows in power and paternal sweetness — he enters into the adventure with willingness and rewards loyalty and service by Helena with his power and support.  Dakin Matthews as  elderly Lord Lafew charms and enchants.  David Manis as clownish Lavatch, another household loyal, in a delightfully bad toupee finds every possible moment to quietly humorously underscore.  Reg Rogers as  the self-centered and cowardly Parolles is outrageously over the top — Shakespearean drag.  Carson Elrod gives us a version of a soldier interpreter heavily influenced by Martin Short‘s Franck in the 1991 film remake of Father of the Bride.

The women have less stage time yet create more layered resonance in a number of the performances.  Perhaps this is because their characters effect the ruses that reveal the two-faced nature of several of the men.  In particular, Parisse’s character evolves quite a distance, from old maid in stark black simple attire (think Katharine Hepburn in The Rainmaker, a spinster sister with childlike enthusiasms) to a striding independent in delightful traveling clothes including jodpurs and a silk trench coat (think Hepburn as Tracy Lord in The Philadelphia Story meets cross dressing adventurer Christopher Strong).  Kristen Connolly as Diana, the Florentine daughter who is pursued by Bertram in his adventures and with whom Helena cooks up her scheme to win Bertram back, is strong, assured, delightful.

All’s Well That Ends Well in lovely costumes by Jane Greenwood and a set arched upward from the wooden Delacorte stage with fold-able magnificent details (design by Scott Pask) and lighting effects by Peter Kaczorowski that evoke childlike wonder at light and sound and smoke and mirrors, and genuine fear of the guns of war. And this Hepburn-loving gal would wear almost all of Helena’s wardrobe.  Gladly.

© Martha Wade Steketee (June 26, 2011)

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