Entertainment » Theatre

All's Well That Ends Well

by Colleen Cottet
Monday Apr 27, 2015
Jeremy Trager and Melanie Derleth
Jeremy Trager and Melanie Derleth  

I've not seen all of his plays in performance, but I have seen my fair share of Shakespeare. Though it can be very rewarding to see his work produced in the periods in which they are originally set, I'm a fan of changing the milieu. It's a device that can keep theme fresh, shed light on the time period chosen, and make Shakespeare more accessible to the audience.

That said, doing so is a risky undertaking. If the producers make such changes flippantly, without adequately exploring the concept behind such a shift, the result can be an empty gimmick, and actually serve to alienate an audience.

Thankfully, skilled director Drew Martin, helming Stage Left Theatre's "All's Well That Ends Well," transforms the setting of the play to mid-20th century America, and in doing so explores the play's themes of power and gender politics in a remarkably refreshed way. Cemented by a capable cast, "All's Well" is a quality finish to Stage Left's 33rd season.

"All's Well That Ends Well" is one of William Shakespeare's "problem plays," so termed as it contains near equal elements of comedy and tragedy. Its difficult categorization has likely contributed to the infrequency with which it is produced; so far as I know, production history is spotty at best, and no major motion picture adaptation exists, in contrast to Shakespeare's more popular "Hamlet," "Romeo & Juliet" and the like.

Martin brings the characters into the 1950s, substituting France and Italy with Chicago, New York, and Miami. The royalty of Elizabethan era has been transformed into American Mafioso, swathed in leather jackets and pinstripe suits, brandishing switchblades and revolvers instead of swords.

Bertram (Luke Daigle) is a young Count, full of swagger, strutting across the stage with his lords, including the braggart Parolles (Jeremy Trager). The Mafia world, steeped in violence and exchanges of power, exists for them, and they are keenly aware of that.

But at its heart, this is not just a story of men; it is of the women who surround them. Young Helena (Melanie Derleth), recently orphaned and under the care of Bertram's Countess-mother (Susie Griffith), is in love with Bertram, but very aware of the class divide that separates them. The King (Rich Logan) is dying, however, and Helena and the Countess devise a plan to elevate Helena's social standing and win a chance to become Bertram's bride.

The plan backfires, though, when Bertram soundly rejects Helena, choosing instead to face war with Parolles at his side. Helena, forced now to flee and find new refuge, plots with Bertram's latest paramour Diana (Heather Chrisler) to avenge her own honor and ensure her future.

"All's Well That Ends Well" shows a great deal of the class divide between men and women. Not fully in charge of their own futures, women like Helena and Diana must make themselves useful to the men in their worlds in order to survive.

Setting the play in 1950s America was a clever choice, given the shifting attitudes of this era about women in marriage, in the workplace, in reproductive options. The warring factions of "All's Well" was made more approachable by introducing the characters as Mafia, not to mention the shear entertainment factor of having Shakespearean language spoken by actors who look as though they have stepped off of the set of "Guys and Dolls."

Kudos to all of the actors for the undertaking; mastering Shakespeare's words is no mean feat, and balancing that with regional dialectic tones of big city mid-century America as deftly as they did is to be applauded.

Indeed, though it is Martin's unique vision that pulls us in, it is the talent and skill of his cast that keeps us enthralled. Derleth is luminous as Helena, Griffith commanding as the Countess, Chrisler a spitfire as Diana. Kimberly Logan, as the Miami-based Widow of the second act, is comic gold, and Rich Logan is wonderful as the King. It is Trager, however, that steals the show, offering a layered performance as Parolles, a character that undergoes the most transformation out of any in the play.

Notably, Stage Left offers patrons a Symposium Series with every production, in keeping with their mission of raising social and political debate. After each Sunday matinee of "All's Well," audience members are encouraged to remain for a free discussion; more information on the topics of each date is available on their website.

"All's Well That Ends Well" runs through May 24 at Theater Wit, 1229 W Belmont in Chicago. For information or for tickets, call 773-883-8830, or visit www.stagelefttheatre.com

Colleen Cottet is a freelance writer and playwright, having written for such diverse publications as American Teen, Veterinary Technician, and the Journal of Ordinary Thought. Her work has been performed at the Chicago Park District and About Women. She resides in Chicago.


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