Monday, July 1, 2013

Shakespeare By The Sea’s 2013 Production of All’s Well That Ends Well

One thing I love about Los Angeles in the summer is the number of free Shakespeare productions all around town. In the last few years, I’ve seen free productions of Much Ado About Nothing, As You Like It, Love’s Labour’s Lost, Hamlet, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, The Merry Wives Of Windsor, and The Comedy Of Errors. One company I kept missing (for various reasons) was Shakespeare By The Sea. Rather than perform their season in one location, this company does two plays in various locations all over the area, one performance in each location. This summer they’re doing All’s Well That Ends Well and King John, two plays I’ve never seen performed live.

Last night I caught their performance of All’s Well That Ends Well in Glenoaks Park in Glendale. The performance was scheduled to begin at 7 p.m., so I got there at 5:45 p.m. At that point they were in the process of building the stage. Interestingly, though this park is much smaller than the space at Griffith Park (for example), these guys had speakers set up, and placed microphones on the stage to pick up the actors. I had placed my blanket right in the front (I can’t stand to be behind anyone who might talk during a performance), and realized I was parallel to the speakers, but figured the actors would project enough that I could hear them.

This, it turned out, was the company’s first tour date of the summer. The crew was feeling its way around. “Next time we do this, these should go on last.” This actually worked to get me even more excited about this production. There was some trouble with the lights, as they were down one cable. The more I heard of troubles, the more I expected magic – especially as no one seemed particularly troubled by the troubles. One thing that did worry me, however, was the presence of a basketball court off stage left. I assumed (and hoped) that no one would be playing basketball during the performance (but I was wrong – there were people playing through most of the performance, even after it got dark). Well, the performance was actually a lot of fun.

Helena and Parolles engage in some playful sword business during their conversation about virginity at the beginning of the play, an interesting choice. Helena even gives him a kiss on the cheek toward the end of the scene. So this is no demure Helena. Helena is a tough role, because she does some things that aren’t all that likeable (basically forcing someone into marriage, and then the bed trick), but yet the audience has to really be on her side at a certain point. I think this Helena did a pretty good job, and made several interesting choices. I particularly liked her in the scene with the Countess when she admits her love for Bertram.

There is some silly business regarding helping the King up, and then helping the King back down. (The King seems uncoordinated and somewhat lazy rather than ill.) Helena makes a show of producing the medicine and giving it to the King. He is cured almost immediately, on stage (the actor even losing the long white wig he wore). It’s played for laughs.

Interestingly, when Helena kisses Bertram at the end of Act II, we see a hint of love for her in him at that moment. This works to make the ending more believable and also happier.

There is an intermission, coming just after Helena’s speech in Act III Scene ii. During the intermission, one member of the company serenaded the crowd, and folks walked through the crowd selling raffle tickets. (I bought one, but didn’t win. No matter, as it’s a good way to support the group.)

The second half begins with a short battle scene, during which we see the theft of Parolles’ drum. For the bed trick, Diana blindfolds Bertram. Then when Bertram kisses Helena, music swells.

The cast, for the most part, is quite good. Stand-outs for me were Parolles and Bertram. I did feel that there was a bit too much business added. I understand that when playing in a park, there is that tendency to go for bigger gestures and more silliness, but there were times when they went too far in that direction, particularly in the portrayal of the King.

By the way, this is a breezy production, coming in at two hours (including the intermission). If you missed yesterday’s performance, you still have several chances to see All’s Well That Ends Well. Performances of this play are scheduled for Rossmoor, Whittier, Manhattan Beach, Hermosa Beach, Lakewood, Newport Beach, South Pasadena, Torrance, Irvine, Rowland Heights, Santa Ana, Chino Hills, Rancho Palos Verdes and Woodland Hills. You can check out the calendar on the company’s web site:

I’m excited to see what this company will do with King John.

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