- All's Well that Ends Well, and: Hamlet
Orlando Shakespeare presented an uneven season for 2010; while its All's Well that Ends Well was utterly charming, its Hamlet failed to deliver. Although the latter production had much to recommend it, it was ultimately marred by a one-note performance from its lead actor.
Director Jim Helsinger's delightful All's Well highlighted the play's fairy tale elements most enchantingly. Helsinger asked in the production's program notes, "What if Cinderella came to the ball and the King forced the Prince to marry her without knowing her? What if the Prince met her as a peasant who worked at the castle, instead of as a fairy-tale Princess at the ball? What if there was an evil con-artist convincing [End Page 539] the Prince not to pursue her? Would they still live happily ever after?" Focusing on these questions, Helsinger—in a theatre company that is ironically close to Disney World—evoked Cinderella, The Princess and the Frog, Sleeping Beauty, Rumplestiltskin, and even Little Red Riding Hood in his interpretation.
The opening moment set the tone: Helena stood centered in the spotlight of an otherwise dark stage, broom in hand; minutes later, in her verbal jousting with Parolles, she playfully used the broom as a prop. Marni Penning's Helena and Anne Hering's Countess displayed effortless chemistry in 1.3, reminiscent of the easy rapport the two actors shared as Portia and Nerissa in last year's production of The Merchant of Venice. In preparation for her quest to cure the King in Paris, the Countess, in true Fairy Godmother fashion, kissed Helena on the forehead and dressed her in a red cloak. This "Little Red Riding Hood," basket in hand, headed off into the scary forest (through the audience), which was full of wolves, monsters, and other frightening creatures.
The "Disneyfication" (I do not use the term derisively; the production's fairy-tale allusions worked wonderfully) continued when Helena arrived in Paris; although she seemed truly terrified of the King, she soon regained her composure and concocted her magic potion. Helena intoned an incantation over a steaming glass bowl while spooky music enhanced the mysterious atmosphere. The contents of the bowl changed color, and from its depths Helena plucked out the "magic" apple that would cure the King. Even the ring that he presented her with had a cartoonish quality, looking like a bright red cherry. Now that all was well, the King and Helena danced merrily offstage.
The King returned to his royal authority in the next scene, offering Helena a choice of "noble bachelors" from which to choose. The potential husbands provided a bit of comedy, respectively dressed as a chef, an effeminate ballerina type, an introverted scholar, and a stuttering cobbler, and their comic business provoked laughter and appreciation from the audience. When Helena opted for the handsome Bertram, the King produced his own humorous moment when he threw a rose at the young man, quickly and decisively telling him, "take her; she's thy wife."
In a charming and innovative twist, Helena's wedding ensemble included a pair of glass slippers. Unfortunately, however, they were topped by an ill-fitting white dress...