Anita’s Eye on the Rodeo – All’s Well That Ends Well – The Shakespeare Company – The Studio at Vertigo Theatre
What a delight to see one of Shakespeare’s lesser known plays performed and staged with such charisma by Calgary’s The Shakespeare Company. Admittedly, I’m not a Shakespeare expert and have seen or read only a handful of the Bard’s plays. This one is a particularly appropriate play for our age, as director Peter Hinton points out in his Director’s Notes. It’s a feminist show with issues of class and gender at its core.
The Shakespeare Company’s production uses Canadian playwright Brad Fraser’s adaptation as its inspiration. Fraser outs the queerness that is unspoken in Shakespeare’s original and underlines the strength of the female characters.
The protagonist is feisty Helena, played by actor and chanteuse Allison Lynch. She loves Bertram—played winsomely by Brett Dahl—who is handsome but lacks character. He is in a relationship with the shallow coward Parolles, played with verve by Braden Griffiths. Helena’s strength, intelligence and scheming matches and outdoes that of all of the male characters in a gender role reversal that is fun to watch in the Shakespearean context. And Lynch plays it graciously, injecting vulnerability and hutzpah into her role.
Another accomplished actor and chanteuse, Elizabeth Stepkowski-Tarhan steps grandly into the role of old Countess of Rousillon, using her strength as an actor and her versatile enchanting voice to command the stage. Stepkowski-Tarhan, Lynch and Sarah Wheeldon, who plays the virgin Diana, sing beautifully in parts throughout the play, often accompanied by the male characters.
I single out the women here, but the entire cast is strong and so rewarding to watch as they put their substantial chops on display.
The Shakespearean language is fun to hear, even if at times I lost a thread. I could always pick it up again. That’s because the actors are so good and the staging simple and effective. It’s a beautiful play to look at, including razor sharp lighting that ranges from full-on house lights, to candles and strong spotlights trained to a half a dozen actors around the stage and on the stairways of the seats.
Whether or not you are a Shakespeare aficionado, you’ll find this to be an accessible production that resonates with talent and élan. You still have time to see it—it runs through January 28. I strongly recommend this play.