July 23, 2014

About a Girl: Shakespeare’s All’s Well that Ends Well

 

PHOTO BY MIRIAM GEER

About a Girl: Shakespeare’s <i>All’s Well that Ends Well</i>

From left, Alexandra Elam, Willow Geer, Marqueta Floyd and Eddie Jordan III in All's Well That Ends Well.

Like many Shakespearean comedies All’s Well that Ends Well (All’s Well) is a clever jumble of trickery, lovers falling for the wrong person, mistaken identity, joy amidst tragedy and speckled with bawdy humor, all inter-dispersed in one big-spirited play.

With its large cast and lively action, All’s Well makes for the perfect summer outing or date-night theater event. Perhaps more than any other Shakespearean play, All’s Well is packed full of delightful one-liners and memorable quotes, such as “love all; trust a few” and “My friends were poor, but honest.”

All’s Well is about a girl who likes a boy, who does not know she exists. It is about a king, a lost husband. Race. Class. The struggle between outward appearances and social stature.

The diverse casting of the performance at Theatricum Botanicum lends a marvelous cultural depth and honesty to the play, bringing its story up to date for the 21st century.

PHOTO BY MIRIAM GEER

About a Girl: Shakespeare’s <i>All’s Well that Ends Well</i>

Willow Geer as Helena; Earnestine Phillips as the Countess of Rousillon and Marqueta Floyd in Allís Well that Ends Well at the Theatrium Botanicum that continues through Sept. 27.

The play opens with the funeral of a physician and Helena (Willow Geer), his beautiful but poor daughter, is mourning. Her adopted mother, Countess of Rousillon (Earnestine Phillips) comforts her new ward. She learns Helena has fallen in love with Count Bertram (Max Lawrence), the Countess’ spoiled son who is immature and easily influenced. The union seems impossible because of the difference in their social class (Bertram is royalty while Helena is lower class).

The strong-willed, early feminist Helena follows Bertram from Rousillon to Paris after she hears the King of France (Wayne Stribling Jr.) is ill. With a healing potion from her physician father, Helena offers to cure the king in exchange for one of his court attendant’s hand in marriage. She cures the king, then chooses Bertram, who is forced to marry her and immediately escapes to serve in the military. Thus, the adventure of the play unfolds. Girl wants boy, girl gets boy, boy runs away.

PHOTO BY MIRIAM GEER

About a Girl: Shakespeare’s <i>All’s Well that Ends Well</i>

From left, Melora Marshall and Wayne Stribling, Jr. in All's Well That Ends Well at the Theatricum Botanicum.

Strong performances were given by all of the principals, but the show was stolen by the minor characters, Alan Blumenfeld as Lavatch, a singing court clown who fancies the women and who desperately wants to be upper class; and Melora Marshall as LaFeu, a sharp tongued elderly Lord who is capable of solving dilemmas with his wit and wisdom.

Both Blumenfeld and Marshall have a ball onstage, moving easily through theatrical nuances with laughter and joy. These two veterans earn the biggest laughs of the evening.

The physical comedy makes this play soar. One line uttered by Marshall brings down the house, “I’d give all I had if I still had my teeth!” Her punctuation and range of line delivery is stunning and comedically on track. She has a wide registry of acting notes and uses them all in her cross-gender performance of the elderly Lafeu.

At times, the “raw” physical comedy (as with many Shakespearian works), may seem to be more suitable for an adult audience, having sexual nuances for some of the best lines delivered.

Mark Lewis as Parolles, a dandy braggart and bad influence upon Bertram, excels during his darkest moments when he is unearthed as the phony he truly is. It’s sheer delight to watch his descent from upper crust to the lowest of the low.

With Earnestine Phillips contributing a solid performance as the Countess of Rousillon, her role is the glue that holds together the structure of the play: strong and sure, with a hint of comedy, the role of the Countess orchestrates the action and serves as its anchor and rock. Every appearance of Phillips brings on her confidence and command of the stage.

Directed artfully by Ellen Geer and Christopher W. Jones with their gender-bending and color-blind casting, this show has been reborn into modern times and they truly make the most of what has previously been perceived as a minor play, not often performed.

The open stage design in a modified U shape does an excellent job of including the audience in the performance and, in many cases, actors arrive and depart with swords and shouts through the long aisles of the amphitheater and surrounding hillside.

Lush and imaginary are the costumes by Ben Kahookele, most notably the dandy outfit worn by Parolles, and the bright yellow island-themed dress worn by the Countess.

Costumes looked fresh and helped define the characters of the play: the mild-mannered French military in light blue, the steady Countess in bold yellow, Parolles, dandy in a metallic geometric patterned suit.

Topanga’s Theatricum Botanicum recently named “One of the 50 Coolest Places in Los Angeles” by Buzz magazine; “One of Southern California's most beguiling theater experiences” by Sunset magazine; and “Best Theater in the Woods” by the LA Weekly, has been an enchanted place since it opened in 1973.

All’s Well that Ends Well continues through Sept. 27.

DREAM DINNERS AND A SHOW

In honor of Shakespeare’s 450th birthday, Will Geer’s Theatricum Botanicum, set in the lovely canyon of Topanga is producing an all-Shakespeare lineup this summer season: with its signature play and annual tradition of A Midsummer Night’s Dream; a gender-bent “Queen” Lear; All’s Well That Ends Well, Much Ado About Nothing and a short, contemporary play, Equivocation, by Bill Cain, later this season which poses the question: “What if the government had commissioned Shakespeare to write about the Gunpowder Plot?”

Tickets: Adults, $37 (lower tier), $25 (upper tier); Seniors (60+), Students, Military Veterans, AEA Members, $25/$15; Children (7-12): $10; Children 6 and under: free. There will be one ten-minute intermission during this performance.

“British Pub Grub” dinner-and-a-show combos: call theater for pricing. (310) 455-3723; www.theatricum.com. Advance reservations required.

Will Geer’s Theatricum Botanicum is located at 1419 North Topanga Canyon Blvd. in Topanga, halfway between Malibu and the San Fernando Valley. The outdoor amphitheater at Will Geer’s Theatricum Botanicum is terraced into the hillside of the rustic canyon. Audience members are advised to dress casually (warmly for evening performances) and to bring blankets as needed.

­Snacks are available at the Hamlet Hut, and picnickers are welcome before and after the shows.

Bring pillows or cushions for the bench seating.

Millicent Borges Accardi is the author of three poetry books and recipient of fellowships from the National Endowment for the arts (NEA), CantoMundo, and the California Arts Council. She organizes the reading series Kale Soup for the Soul: Portuguese-American writers reading work about family, food and culture. Follow her @TopangaHippie.