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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  NY Theater Reviews

at the Delacorte Theatre


  Reg Rogers and Carson Elrod/ Ph: Joan Marcus

It’s hard to imagine there being much of a demand for Shakespeare in the Park tickets this year. At least not the kind that leads people to camp out overnight to see Anne Hathaway (Twelfth Night) or Al Pacino (The Merchant of Venice).

Not only is the Public Theater performing two lesser-known Shakespeare plays – All’s Well that Ends Well and Measure for Measure – the cast performing both shows on alternating nights is noticeably devoid of the kind of A-list celebrities that have headlined their productions in recent years.

All’s Well that Ends Well is often described as a “problem play” in light of its uneasy blend of comedic and dark psychological elements.

Helena (Annie Parisse), the play’s heroine and a poor orphan, is hopelessly in love with Bertram (André Holland), the royal-blooded son of her guardian (Tonya Pinkins), who is usually found hanging out with the clownish rogue Parolles (Reg Rogers).

After saving the life of the king of France (John Cullum) by using one of her late father’s medicine, she wins the right to marry Bertram against his will. Bertram, not too thrilled with the arrangement, immediately deserts her and vows that he will never be with her unless she can take a ring from his father and become pregnant with his child. But rather than back down and accept the “he’s just not that into you” mantra, Helena devises a complicated “bed trick” stunt to pull it off and win back her husband.

Although Daniel Sullivan’s straightforward and scenically spare staging, which resets the play to the turn of the century, is generally enjoyable, it is a “problem production” due to some fundamental casting issues. Because Parisse is considerably older than Holland, the audience’s sympathy is pushed towards Bertram and away from Helena. While it’s understandable that Bertram would not want to marry an old maid, it is unclear why Helena would dote so feverishly upon the youth. Her devotion now comes off as creepy instead of steadfast, and Bertram is cute instead of cruel.

These problems aside, Parisse gives a fine performance that emphasizes Helena’s transformation from a sad awkwardness into fierce determination. Pinkins, who is best known for her musical theater roles, makes for an elegant and loving Countess.

Although Cullum’s accent makes him seem more like the King of Tennessee than France, the 81-year-old stage veteran provides a lively and commanding presence. Rogers may be playing a fool, but his take on Parolles is so harmlessly cartoonish that it’s hard to believe that the rest of the characters are fed up with him.


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