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Like a Virgin

Theatre Hopkins practices safe Shakespeare in All's Well That Ends Well

Speaketh Thee to the Hand: Carol Mason shakes off Molly Moores in All's Well That Ends Well.

By John Barry | Posted 10/30/2002

All's Well That Ends Well

William Shakespeare

Shakespeare's comedy of romantic entrapment is more bitter than sweet in Theatre Hopkins' production of All's Well That Ends Well. That's not necessarily a criticism, since the relationship that the play is built around is more of a disastrous blind date than a love story. A young man, finding himself pushed into wedlock, rebels. But the girl, rejected, won't take no for an answer. As a low-born daughter of an apothecary, she's got the alchemist's touch, ultimately wrapping everyone--a king, a count, and a court--around her finger. Perseverance pays off. But for the audience, at least, the chase seems a lot more fun than the catch.

Helena (Molly Moores) is virginal, but she isn't an ingenue. Unremarkably love-struck at first, Moores' character thrives on adversity, and she hardens noticeably as she finds ways to nab Count Bertram (Loren Dunn). Her opportunity comes via the King of France (Robert Riggs), who is desperately searching for a cure to his terminal illness. Riggs' and Moores' transformations here are striking: He enters as a nervous wreck, waiting for the Grim Reaper in frank terror and isolation. Helena keeps her cool and rescues him from the brink of death. The dying old man regains his kingly charisma, but he remains in eternal debt to the good woman Helena. And when Helena gets her reward-money and her choice of husband, she takes on her higher station with authority. Among the potential husbands, she picks a certain Count Bertram.

Helena's perseverance is laudable, but she has lousy taste in men. Count Bertram grows progressively unattractive as the play proceeds. Dunn's Bertram isn't a fop or a scalawag; he's more like a sulking 16-year-old who's been told to take his neighbor's daughter to the prom but refuses to dance. So Helena gets her husband, but she doesn't get to sleep with him. She focuses on consummating the marriage, which is the most interesting twist. It seems that she's actually trying to deflower the young count.

Bertram's long-suffering mother, the Countess of Rossillion (Carol Mason), serves as a kindly mediator; she is a sympathetic ally to Helena, her young charge. An intriguing onstage rapport emerges between the young virgin and the old widow. As she steers Helena toward her son, the widow Rossillion is vicariously wooing her own son and reliving her own heartbreaks.

Twists like these drive the plot; the belly laughs are provided by several bumbling males, led by J.R. Lyston as the countess' clown. He seems to actually enjoy the role, which adds a spark to some of the plodding middle scenes. Parolles (James Gallagher) is Bertram's bearded, foppish companion who tells Helena at the beginning that when it comes to virginity, she's got to use it or lose it. As the play progresses, his various missteps and cowardice lead him to a fall from grace; there's a touch of Falstaff in his subsequent isolation.

If you're annoyed by directors who want to put their stamp on Shakespeare, you won't find a problem here; Suzanne Pratt takes very few chances. Maybe more should have been taken. There is some very good acting, but less interaction. That puts the production in the minor key, particularly at the end. The reconciliation is obligatory, the renewal of vows a little icy. As the lights go down, Bertram's hand is on his newlywed's tummy. She's knocked up, but she engineered her own deflowering. So in this production, at least, the honeymoon is over before it begins.

It's not an unhappy ending, but there's a cautionary note. Now, Shakespeare isn't trying to tell us to use condoms, or even to just say no. But he does have a word of warning for the virgins of the world: You may get what you want, but you may not want what you get. Or you may not get what you want, but you'll get what you need. OK, there's another English balladeer who may have the intellectual copyright on that. I'd recommend this solid production of All's Well That Ends Well over Sir Mick any day. Shakespeare is cheaper and, even though he's bald, he ages better.

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