Reviewed by Will Stackman
The Actors' Shakespeare Project's final offering of the season, Shakespeare's seldom done "All's Well That Ends Well", directed by the company's Artistic Director and founder, Benjamin Evett, displays their increasingly tight ensemble work. Casting within the company, however, has resulted in two distinctive performers, John Kuntz and Jennie Israel, taking the romantic leads, rather against type. This duo, at odds for ninety-five percent of the action, is almost impossible to bring together in the closing scene under the best circumstances. As in "Measure for Measure," another dramatic comedy, the result isn't very satisfying unless the audience has developed some sympathy for both characters. Israel, the company's Associate Artistic Director, played Lady Macbeth for CSC and was effective last fall as Goneril in "King Lear," but, as Helena, comes across rather flat in this lighter part. Kuntz, who played Rich. III in the company's inaugural production, is a believably spoiled young noble, Bertram Count Rossillion, but doesn't project the romantic aura the role requires.. However, the play is rich enough that its array of lesser characters, including LaVache, the family fool, also played by Kuntz, make this a rewarding production.
Two central characters are particularly effective. As the Countess, Bertram's widowed mother, Boston acting legend Paula Plum shows her varied talents, adding more comedy than is usual to the role in scenes with LaVache. Shakespeare & Co.'s versatile Allyn Burrows', who appeared in ASP's "Measure for Measure" as The Duke, and was Kent in "Lear, " makes the most of Capt. Parolles, Bertram's dishonest associate. His comic downfall provides the play's secondary complication, and serves as a foil to Bertram's own dissembling. Award-winning actress Bobbie Steinbach is also entertaining playing aged Lord LaFeu, adviser to both the Countess and the King. She doubles as a noble Widow in Florence, mother to Ellen Adair's Diana, the object of Bertram's transient affections and the key to the plot. David Gullette from the Poet's Theatre is believable as the King, the cause of the action, who must finally sort out the result. The remaining three of the ensemble of ten actors--all except for Israel and Plum play named parts, members of the military, and various servants--are Paula Langton and Greg Steres, as the noble brothers Dumain and Risher Reddick as the inept Duke of Florence and Rinaldo, the Countess' steward. They keep the show rolling along, manipulating Caleb Wertenbaker's ingenious formal set with minimal furniture and three trunks on wheels which form set pieces and hold many of the costume changes. The costumes which suggest some previous period were created by Arthur Oliver, Shakespeare & Co.s resident costumer.
This season, returning for the first time to a venue they've used before, ASP has arranged Durrell Hall so that seating is against and on the permanent stage, with the acting area on a painted map on the main floor and partially under the balcony . Banners printed with a variety of symbols hang behind the acting area and provide a myriad of entrances, speeding the action. Live music is provided by fiddler Oisin Conway, who also speaks the epilogue, and pianist Natty Smith who also gets to turn the placards which indicate whether scenes are in Rossillion, Paris, or Florence. The cast sings a mixture of ballads, madrigals, and folk tunes to help with transitions between scenes. The songs selected by music director Natasha Collette and Sara Stackhouse, ASP's Executive Producer. There's a particularly effective choral piece before Bertram's assignation which is played up in Durrell's actual balcony. Evett and company have created an effective, entertaining, and understandable production with much to offer. The limitations of the principal characters are implicit in the tale itself, which Shakespeare borrowed from Boccacio, and which he may tried earlier in a lost version entitled "Love's Labor Won." The current version indeed ends with only the central couple barely united, and the fate of other "lovers", including crude LaVache, unfulfilled.
The Actor's Shakespeare Project has a special added engagement this season. The company is reviving their acclaimed production of "King Lear", starring Alvin Epstein in the title role, in NYC from June 16 through July 2, in the Annex at La MaMa, 76 E4th St. Their first production next season, opening at the Dorchester's Strand Theatre in Oct., will be "Hamlet," with Benjamin Evett in the title role, directed by the New Rep's award-winning Artistic Director, Rick Lombardo. As usual, ASP will be using the space in a unique way.