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It All Ends (and Fairly Well)

June 20, 2010

Literary themes, like hope, spring eternal, and we’re eternally grateful when those themes show a new twist, or even the foundations of their origin. With the help of William Shakespeare, American Players Theatre manages to accomplish both goals.

All’s Well that Ends Well, APT’s second seasonal production that opened Saturday, is Shakespeare’s Cinderella story, in which the prince is less than charming and the commoner forced through clever machinations to win his hand and, perhaps someday, his heart. Director John Langs breathes life into his characters and energy into his narrative, which turns the storybook reference on its ear, perhaps even before it was the universal literary metaphor it is today.

Poor Betram (Matt Schwader) is sent to make his way in the court of France’s king (Jonathan Smoots) by his widowed mother, the Countess of Rossillion (Tracy Michelle Arnold). The young count thinks this may be his way of escaping the clutches of Helena (Ally Carey), a comely physician’s daughter who pines for his troth. But when clever Helena cures the king’s mysterious illness and receives, in tribute, her choice of suitors, Betram finds himself on the firing line, figuratively and literally, as Helena strives to topple his resistance.

In and among love’s labors not quite lost, Betram goes to war, falls under the influence of aging cavalier Parolles (a hilarious Jim DeVita), crosses swords with foes, beds the wrong maiden and, undone by his own cleverness, falls neatly into Helena’s trap. Some themes, it seems, truly are eternal. (And, honey, was he really worth all the effort?)

Costume designer Robert Morgan creates a detailed world of top hats and ball gowns, brocaded military uniforms and flashing cutlasses put to good use in fight choreographer Kevin Asselin’s exciting sequences. The cast inhabits the auditorium, as it often does, bringing the drama to and through the audience.

The best thing about the three-hour production is how much fun APT’s core company has with its supporting parts. Arnold and Smoots envelop their characters, as does Sarah Day, who turns a modest role into a memorable one. Scene-stealer DeVita has the most fun, huffing, wheedling and chewing his way through difficult dialogue in threadbare wig and an over-accessorized uniform.

In the end, once again, all ends well for the Spring Green troupe.

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