A perceptive production of “All’s Well that Ends Well” at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival shows how deeply Shakespeare understood women, often portraying them as persons of superior wit.
As directed by Tracy Young, Helen is a quirky young woman who learned medicine from her father. Now an orphan, she lives with a kindly countess. For some inscrutable reason, Helen loves Bertram, the countess’s son. He’s an immature, untutored, would-be soldier and playboy, but he’s far above her socially.
When the king falls mortally ill, Helen goes to him with her father’s medicines and cures him. As a reward he promises her anything her heart desires. Her request, which he readily grants, is to allow her to marry Bertram.
Bertram is outraged. He doesn’t want a wife. What fun is that? He’ll go to war rather than marry and he absolutely refuses to bed Helen unless she can get the family ring off his finger and bear him a child.
That seems impossible, but with the help of other women, Helen devises a scheme to trick him. In spite of this age-old stratagem, “All’s Well that Ends Well” seems refreshingly modern in some ways. Helen talks openly about sex with male acquaintances, and she is one of just a few of Shakespeare’s heroines to have soliloquies, allowing us to see inside her clever brain.
Royer Bockus shines brightly as Helen. Daisuke Tsuji is a spoiled, pouty Bertram, and Vilma Silva exudes warmth as the countess. Especially engaging is Al Espinosa as the complex liar Parolles.
The play does indeed end well, for the entire audience.
This is Dorothy Velasco with KLCC’s Ashland Theater Review.