This past weekend, we saw Shakespeare’s Alls Well That Ends Well at the Theater Wit. Yes, another play checked off my list of Shakespearean plays. After seeing so many Shakespeare comedies, I’m finding that Twelfth Night is really more the anomaly than the norm.
Theater Wit’s production was set in 1950s America. They had decided on a gangster/greaser vibe with action in Chicago, New York, and Miami. I thought the staging was quite excellent. With a minimal set, they changed locales by changing the tablecloths, which really worked for me. It was also amazing how they had the characters mill around on stage before the play and during intermission in character. I adored the improvisation going on stage; it made the characters seem even more lifelike. The actors who played Parolles and the clown were fantastic. You loved to hate Parolles with his bravado while the clown was astute and funny. Both were real treasures to watch.
The issue for me was the play itself. So much of it didn’t work for me. Spoilers ahead. Bertram is the main issue. I don’t know why Helena or any woman would fall madly in love with him. He never really shows why he’s so loved. There doesn’t seem to be anything redeeming in him. Helena, you could do better. Then again, I didn’t buy Helena’s goodness either. She seeks to cure the king for her own gain. She gets brownie points for gumption and bravery but it’s not out of the kindness of her own heart. And then there’s the forced marriage, which is all sorts of icky. While Bertram stinks as a character, he shouldn’t be forced into marriage, even if his reasons are super classist. Helena really should have done a better job at opposing the marriage when she knew Bertram’s feelings. The lady doth not protest enough. And then there’s the bed trick, which has got to be a form of rape. Ugh.
But also on the topic of virginity, it seems so odd that Shakespeare plays fast and loose with virginity in this work. There’s the incredible dialogue between Helena and Parolles in the beginning discussing the virtues and disadvantages to the “commodity.” But then there is the bed trick, where virginal Diana lures Bertram to her bed and switches out for Helena so she can get impregnated. There’s this huge scene where Diana confronts Bertram about her maidenhead. Then alls well when it turns out he actually bedded his wife. It seems such a strange thing to fool with virginity and honor especially since such questionable actions over virginity resulted in death and misery in Othello and Much Ado About Nothing. Maybe Shakespeare is just playing around with notions of women’s special virginity. I’m not sure. Or maybe Diana is too low class for it to matter. Something is rotten.
But I’m going to press on with my Shakespeare mission. But I will say that I think the Histories and Tragedies still resonate with me the best.
That’s all for now!