All’s Well That Ends Well adaptation a delightfully dark comedic romp with a twist

Christopher Mott, Chanakya Mukherjee & Liz Der. Photo by Stevie Baker.

 

Dauntless City Theatre is back at Berczy Park (aka the dog fountain park across from the St. Lawrence Centre) with a delightful immersive, site-specific adaptation of Shakespeare’s All’s Well That Ends Well. Adapted and directed by Scott Emerson Moyle, assisted by Jordi O’Dael, this version of the play is queer, twisty, darkly funny—and calls out bad behaviour—in an intimate, energetic romp of sauce and wit that’s part cautionary tale, part dark comedy.

Helena (a feisty, resilient turn from Liz Der) has recently lost her father, a skilled and respected doctor, and is now the ward of the recently widowed Countess Rousillon (Andrea Lyons is a treat in this edgy, hilarious performance), whose son Bertram (played with sneering pride and entitlement by Chanakya Mukherjee) is now the new Count. Helena is hopelessly and secretly in love with Bertram, but dares not hope for a match, as she is not noble-born. She is, however, very skilled in the healing arts; and when news arrives that the King of France (played with imperiousness tempered by warmth by Christopher Mott) has been very ill with no cure in sight, she sees a way to prove her worth to Bertram, who has travelled to the French court with his BFF Parolles (a cheeky, lovable scoundrel, played with gusto by Annelise Hawrylak).

Despite his skepticism after many failed treatments administered by many learned men, the King agrees to Helena’s treatment—and rewards her success by offering her the choice of any man in court for her husband. Taking this opportunity, she chooses Bertram; and when he rudely refuses her proposal, the King forces him into marriage. With war brewing in Florence, Parolles sees a way out and suggests that she and Bertram leave France and join the army. They do so, with Bertram leaving word with Helena that he will be her husband only if she successfully completes the impossible task of getting a ring from him and getting pregnant with his child. Helena pursues Bertram to France and, with the help of the independent and savvy innkeeper Diana (Melanie Leon), who Bertram has been doggedly pursuing to bed, hatches a plan to make the impossible possible.

Rounding out the company are Eric Benson as the priggish, arrogant M. LaFeu, an elder courtier at the Countess’s home; Tallan Alexander as Lavatch, the Countess’s saucy valet; and Holly Wyder as the spritely, guitar playing Dumaine the Younger and Anthony Botelho as the cheeky, trumpeter Dumaine the Elder, sibling messengers and our guides around the park.

And just as Helena and Diana put one over on Bertram, Parolles’ fellow soldiers (Lyons, Mott, Alexander and Benson) pull some trickery on him, revealing his true character. Prideful and careless of others, both Bertram and Parolles fall hard, and must surrender to their respective fates in the end. And an unexpected match is made in the process.

Part cautionary tale, part dark comedy, the energetic and entertaining ensemble keeps us on our toes—literally and figuratively—with twisting plot turns, and hilarious battles of words and wits; with some characters thinking and acting with their hearts and others working from somewhere decidedly south of there. Sharp-witted skills at verbal thrust and parry is in great evidence between Hawrylak’s Parolles and Benson’s M. LaFeu, as well as Hawrylak and Der’s Helena, and Lyons’ Countess and Alexander’s Lavatch. And Der’s performance is a great combination of love-struck and determination in Helena’s one-sided attentions to Bertram, and keen debate and care with the King—all while trying to prove herself worthy of Bertram’s love, which he clearly doesn’t want or deserve.

The adaptation lives up to the title, connecting us with the story in an intimate and contemporary way in an immersive, site-specific production that incorporates gender-bending casting, queer twists and calling out bad behaviour. The underlying misogyny and classism get big time push-back with powerful, capable and intelligent female and queer characters who ain’t taking no guff. (And with a female Parolles, we’re also reminded that even women can be dicks.) Beware of the proud and scornful, and the braggart cowards—and the proud and scornful mustn’t underestimate the smart and resourceful, no matter what their station. And don’t waste your talent and affection on someone who doesn’t care for or deserve you.

All’s Well That Ends Well continues in Berczy Park until August 25, with Friday and Saturday evening performances at 7:30 pm (except for Fri, Aug 9); and Saturday and Sunday matinees at 1:00 p.m. Admission is pay what you can (PWYC), suggested $20 per person; look for the Dauntless City Theatre banner, east of the fountain.

 

Department of Corrections: The original post had matinee performances listed at 1:30 p.m.; they’re actually at 1:00 p.m. This has been corrected.

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A powerful, moving adaptation – The Deliverance of Juliet & Her Romeo

juliet & her romeoI was very lucky to be able to get in to see the closing night performance of Leroy Street Theatre’s/Avant Bard Productions’ adaptation of Romeo and JulietThe Deliverance of Juliet and Her Romeo – at Unit 102 Theatre last night.

Adapted by Harrison Thomas, Ashleigh Kasaboski and Anne van Leeuwen, and directed by Thomas, this version of the classic tale of star-crossed lovers is set in a modern-day religious right dystopia (think Handmaid’s Tale meets Bountiful, B.C.). The Capulets are members of the dominant cult, and Lord Capulet (Scott Walker) is their prophet/leader; Lady Capulet is a trio of sister wives that includes the traditional Nurse role (Michelle Cloutier, Kelly Van der Burg and Michelle D’Alessandro Hatt – with D’Alessandro Hatt playing the Nurse wife, called “Aunt” by Juliet); and Juliet (Kasaboski) is the dutiful, but lively, daughter and prized possession. Romeo (van Leeuwen) is a woman, with only her mother Lady Montague (Emily Nixon) and cousin Benvolio (Cam Sedgwick) to call family – and all are reviled heretics in the eyes of the Capulet cult. Living outside these opposing families are the socially liberal missionary Friar Lawrence (Christopher Mott) and his daughter Mercutio (Lauren Horejda), who is BFFs with Benvolio and Romeo.

In this Romeo and Juliet, the hate between the two families is mostly one-sided, with the more powerful Capulets lording over all – and not above acts of self-righteous violence to keep control and purge their society of undesirables. And, here, the young love between Juliet and her Romeo, cut short by hatred and intolerance, is all the more tragic – you’d think that, by the late 20th centruy, people would know better.

Played out on a starkly furnished, almost Spartan, set of chain link fences and wooden boxes – and backed by a live soundtrack of guitar, banjo and a selection of hymns, including a particularly lovely choral performance of “Down to the River to Pray” – this Verona is physically divided, the Capulet commune more like a prison than a community.

The Deliverance of Juliet and Her Romeo has an excellent cast. Stand-outs include Kasaboski, who brings a youthful passion and energy – and desperate bravery – to Juliet; and van Leeuwen’s Romeo is a lovely combination of sensitive, romantic and melancholy (this production also borrows text from Hamlet), whose courage tends more toward the brash and impetuous compared to her more measured lover. Walker’s performance as Capulet is riveting – his Capulet’s domineering, at times violent, behaviour and ‘my way or the highway’ attitude is all the more disturbing, as it’s all done in the name of God. D’Alessandro Hatt’s Lady Capulet 3/Nurse is compelling and compassionate – surprised to find that the Romeo to whom she delivers Juliet’s message is a woman, but not allowing prejudice to sway her opinion of Romeo’s good character. It is towards this wife that Capulet directs his violence when she attempts to intervene when Juliet refuses to marry Paris – and her eventual support of the match seems to come more from a place of protecting Juliet’s welfare than betrayal. Mott’s Friar Lawrence, who also acts as the Chorus, does an excellent job of juggling the conflicting political and emotional situations he finds himself in; striving to keep the peace and protect his family, his resolve pushed to the breaking point when his daughter is killed and the Capulets plan a mass suicide after Juliet’s ‘death’ (drawn from real-life 1978 Jonestown Massacre). And Horejda is remarkable as Mercutio (also plays the Apothecary) – cocky, irreverent and exceedingly clever, with a tortured soul beneath the wise-cracking antics, and so in love with Romeo.

The Deliverance of Juliet and Her Romeo is a powerful, moving adaptation – and the big deal here is not that the young lovers are women, but that the world in which they live is ruled by the hate and narrow-mindedness of an extreme religious right group that ultimately implodes upon itself. Bad news is, the run is over. Good news is, you can keep an eye out for Leroy Street Theatre and Avant Bard Productions – and this fine cast – to see where they go next.