Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.
All's Well That Ends Well
The program notes emphasize Shakespeare's themes of religious pilgrimage, chivalric quest, and trial by combat to present the play as an allegory of people achieving maturity so they can become true partners in life and love. Still, this is a comedy in which a woman chases a man who would rather go to war than spend time with her, finally capturing him through trickery and manipulation. Her pursuit is uncomfortably close to stalking.
Helena (Miriam Silverman), a doctor's daughter, worships Bertram (Tony Roach), the young Count of Rossillion, who thinks her common and beneath his notice. After restoring the health of the dying King of France (Ted van Griethuysen) using medical skills she learned from her late father, Helena asks the king to marry her to Bertram as her reward. He submits under duress, but immediately runs off to Florence with his foppish friend Parolles (Michael Bakkensen) to fight in a war. Is Helena defeated? Not in the least.
The strongest performances come from Van Griethuysen as a deeply humane and thoughtful king, affecting in his infirmity and magisterial in his restoration; Paxton Whitehead as a sharp-tongued French lord; and Bakkensen in the crowd-pleasing role of Bertram's unworthy companion. (His gaudy, worn-looking uniform is probably the best of Robert Perdziola's costume designs, and his elaborate coiffure deserves its own curtain call.) Silverman is impassioned and Roach is very young and callow, appropriate for their roles, but the fact remains that these roles are not easy to accept on their own terms.
Marsha Mason makes her Shakespeare Theatre debut as the Countess of Rossillion, mother of Bertram and loving friend of Helena. While her performance is capable enough, it seems too straightforward and middle-American to go with the more rarefied performers around her.
Shakespeare Theatre Company