“How mightily sometimes we make us comforts of our losses.”
—First Lord Dumaine, Act 4 Scene 3
Shakespeare in the Square's production of All's Well That Ends Well is a wonderful example of how the human spirit can weather all odds and deliver knowing insight, invention and intrigue to theatre lovers of all stripes. Outdoor art is, necessarily, a far different beast than the more predictable (at least logistically) confines of our over-air-conditioned, light-rich, bum-friendly venues where untoward encounters with wind are more frequently from the digestive track rather than Mother Nature.
And so to Brampton where the open air was awash with howling microphones that would have been perfect for Macbeth, a cacophony of car horns, sirens which echoed An American in Paris, and a foolhardy patron who was drummed out of the dress circle as she began her own cell-phone aside, which very nearly produced a murder that no judge would convict.
All of these distractions were endured with characteristic Canadian resolve, for the stage was abuzz with a level of drama, humour and artistry that kept the crowd engaged in every scene.
Theatre veteran Rod Ceballos drew on his considerable experience on both sides of the footlights and especial understanding of the human experience, challenging his talented crew to keep up with his vision and pace. In large measure they succeeded.
Using a near-contemporary time setting (mid-twentieth century) solved both the period wardrobe dilemma and provided the audience—particularly its younger members or elder neophytes—with a visual point-of-reference that brought the tale of a matriarch's love for her children (despite their shameful actions of treachery and deceit) closer to their own sphere of understanding.
The sparse set and minimal props (Paroles' murderous sword as dime-store pen knife a clever touch) kept the troupe on their toes. Ceballos used every bit of real estate on offer, having Lavatch (Terry Wells, first rate in his logical banter) tip toe through the fountain, the foreign-tongue soldiers take cover in the shrubs and—in a hilarious moment that could be marketed to makers of Viagra—the King of France (Peter Van Wart, appropriately regal but too loud by half) swing around the civic flag pole to demonstrate the end of his illness and impotence: what fun that the rainbow pride flag was, apparently, the royal emblem.
Hands were considerably at play. The Countess of Roussillon (Lynne Griffin) spent much of the early scenes with her lovesick-for-her-son, orphan-maid Helen (Anna Hardwick, who brought such wailing and moaning to her poor fate, that relief rather pity was felt at speech's end) framing the distraught face with her aging hands; same too for her wayward son and heir Bertram (Jeff Gruich, looking the part but just a crown short of believable selfishness). So much maternal contact robbed the Countess of the court-wise stoicism that would contrast the better with the impetuous youth that surround her.
The unrelenting grip of Lafeu (Dan Karpenchuk) on the cowardly conniver Paroles (slapstick-superb, pathos-lite David Mackett) was a great gag that—happily—was not over-echoed later. But the hand sign of the evening—the unwilling Bertram forced by the King to clutch the hand of the miracle worker, Helen—is pure brilliance. In a play-defining metaphor, the pair were joined but neither's eyes connected: love is blind indeed.
Mike Gauthier's music was a most welcome addition, but All's Well That's Sung Well, Diana's (Claire Reid) torch song should be stripped of its pitch; her otherwise strong depiction of the sultry maid will then be much improved.
A constant delight were the Brothers Dumaine (Kyle McDonald, Tim MacLean). Secure, savvy and strong, they helped propel the action forward and should be promoted in seasons ahead.
Braving the elements has seldom produced such a remarkable result. And, with free admission, the Ken Whillans Square lawn should be jammed for every future performance. A few lines may be lost in the outdoor adventure, but there's far more to be gained witnessing the combined skill of all concerned. JWR