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San Francisco by Richard Connema

All is well with Will Shakespeare
Review by Wally Gordon

Also see Richard's reviews of Priscilla Queen of the Desert and No Man's Land


James Hiser and Adam Magill
The Marin Shakespeare Company in San Rafael opened on Saturday night a joyous romp through one of William Shakespeare's most difficult and least seen plays, All's Well That Ends Well. Music, singing, dancing, a naturalistic way with Elizabethan iambic pentameter and, above all, a lovely and amazingly skilled young star, Carla Pauli, add up to a delightful evening in the open air of the California night.

This is a play whose women are strong, determined and attractive, but most of whose men are boorish, treacherous and not very smart cads. But when James Hiser slaps this male malaise onto the funny and surprisingly engaging character of Parolles, the result is not just pathos but, in his climactic scene, unexpectedly touching. Hiser has found a way to make this comic character take on depth that shows there is a soul beneath Parolles's tomfoolery and treachery. On the other hand, Adam Magill's male lead, Bertran, the son of a count and the beloved of Pauli's character Helena, is as flat, flaccid and fatuous on stage as he is on the page. Doing something more substantial with this character is an almost insuperable obstacle and one of the major reasons the play is seldom performed.

Also delivering standout performances are Lucas McClure, who plays the clown and performs original songs by Lucas McClure, and Jessica Powell, in the strong role of Countess Roussillon, Bertram's mother. But the play really belongs to Pauli, whose smile lights up the stage and whose voice seems capable of delivering Shakespeare's most complex metaphors with effortless ease.

While the story has all of Shakespeare's usual complexities, including disguises and exchanged male-female identities, it lacks the sword play and other onstage physical action that the Bard employed elsewhere. What it does have is delightful wit, which is played to the hilt by the professional cast under the skillful direction of Robert Currier.

While Currier's guidance of the cast is almost impeccable, one of his artistic decisions raises a question in my mind. In the final scene he alters Shakespeare's words. The last sentence on stage (but not in the text) is delivered by Helena: "All's well that ends," a takeoff on the title as well as on Helena's optimistic mantra, "All's well that ends well." Does a director have the right to alter the words of a classic? I am skeptical, but in this case I have to say the altered version makes for effective theater.

The Marin Shakespeare Company has been producing three plays a year in repertory—usually two Shakespearean and one other classic—for 24 years. Its other plays this year include A Comedy of Errors, which runs through September 29, and The Spanish Tragedy, which just closed. Ironically, although the latter was intended as a non-Shakespearean performance, The New York Times just ran an article saying new analyses show the 16th-century drama was probably written largely by Shakespeare himself. Producer Lesley Schisgall Currier says the play had never before been performed in the Bay Area.

All's Well That Ends Well continues through September 28. The Marin Shakespeare Company performs at the Forest Meadows Amphitheater on the campus of the Dominican University of California at 800 Belle Ave. in San Rafael. For tickets and information call 415-499-4488 or visit www.marinshakespeare.org/.


Photo: Eric Chazankin


Cheers - and be sure to Check the lineup of great shows this season in the San Francisco area

- Wally Gordon



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