The Classical Actors Ensemble claims that it's been 18 years since the Twin Cities saw its last production of Shakespeare's "All's Well That Ends Well." Novelty may explain their choice. It certainly propels the production.
This remains a particularly difficult "comedy" to translate for a contemporary audience. Helena, ward to the Countess of Rossillion, is in love with the Countess' spoiled son, Bertram. After saving the life of the King, she is granted Bertram's hand, only to be humiliated by him. How funny is that! She wins him in the end, but it still leaves a sour taste.
There are almost too many ideas at work in CAE's production. On the one hand, the staging tries to reproduce the experience of 17th-century theater. It's a much more informal and interactive affair.
On the other hand, in an effort to expose the class distinctions at the heart of the play, it's set in the Edwardian era. That adds little, other than giving the show a smart look, thanks to Kiley Cermak's designs, and providing an excuse for performing 1920s songs in the interludes. But then they start using ZZ Top songs.
The open space at Walker Community Church is ideal for this style of production, and Joseph Papke's staging is a model of fast pace and fluid movement. For the most part, his young cast is quite effective.
Unfortunately, there are two holes at the center of the ensemble. As Helena, Danielle Silver speaks the language so fast as to be frequently incomprehensible. And she has a tendency to mug, further demeaning her noble character.
As written, Bertram is an arrogant prig, but David Darrow only amplifies the character's unlikeability.
As the villainous clown, Parolles, Christopher Kehoe steals the show, with some over-the-top, slapstick humor.
And it's the elders in the cast, Janet Hanson as the Countess, Randall J. Funk as the King and Harry Baxter as his ambassador, who truly demonstrate how to handle the text.
There are inconsistencies to this production, both in its ideas and its execution. But there was a rowdy segment of the audience opening night, not typical spectators for Shakespeare, who really got into the spirit of it. Such novelty is not necessarily a bad thing.