Whatever the course, the end is the renown in “All’s Well That Ends Well” in Topanga Canyon. Although it has some stylistic quirks and still-refining aspects, this affable, accessible revival of the Bard’s rambling comic study of class distinctions, romantic ambition and hard-earned wisdom is a representative outing for Will Geer’s Theatricum Botanicum.
Originally published in the First Folio in 1623, “All’s Well” is one of Shakespeare’s less-performed problem plays, having divided scholars and critics for centuries. But if it doesn’t invite easy classification, the play provides ample room for postmodern interpretation, which the Theatricum reading supplies.
FOR THE RECORD
In an earlier version of this post, a photo caption misspelled the last name of Willow Geer as Greer.
While the decision to cast actors of color as the nobility, Caucasians as the common folk could be further examined within the staging, it certainly upends preconceptions and provokes thought. Despite some periodic vagaries of design and attack, the matchless open-air venue and the zigzagging narrative fit fairly well under Ellen Geer and Christopher W. Jones’ knowing co-direction.
Their stalwart cast weathers some scattered overblown and/or under-baked beats to deliver the goods when it counts, centered by a never-better Willow Geer, whose supremely lucid Helena is an eloquent, self-actualized heroine for any era.
As the spoiled foster brother she adores, Max Lawrence is still locating the unconscious affection to offset Bertram’s brattishness, but he’s eagerly proficient. Mark Lewis brilliantly unearths the humanity in foppish scalawag Parolles, and Melora Marshall’s sage Lafeu is another of her amazing en travesti turns, landing the zingers with panache.
Earnestine Phillips drives the pile sometimes as the Countess, but she retains an endearing mix of the earthy and articulate. So does Alan Blumenfeld as bawdy clown Levatch – William Dennis Hunt alternates in the role – although both sport the two misfires in costumer Ben Kahookele’s otherwise fine Fragonard-meets-Gilbert Stuart wardrobe, he dressed as gypsy caravan, she as East Indies tea cozy.
Wayne Stribling Jr.’s ailing King of France wavers between resonant heir to Earle Hyman and loopy cousin to Nipsey Russell. Nicole Pacent’s iambic assurance as plot-pivot Diana makes one wish Shakespeare had expanded the part. Their colleagues are generally competent and often more, particularly in the court scenes and the extended undoing of Parolles by the Italian soldiers.
That we follow the largely unedited text through its dark moments and plot convolutions to an earned happy conclusion testifies to the curiosity factor and the clarity of storytelling at play. “All’s Well” may not be a flawless work, but it nonetheless ends well here.
“All’s Well That Ends Well,” Will Geer’s Theatricum Botanicum, 1419 N. Topanga Canyon Blvd., Topanga. Runs in repertory, see website for schedule. Ends Sept. 27. $25-$37. (310) 455-3723 or www.theatricum.com. Running time: 2 hours, 30 minutes.