Review: All's Well That Ends Well by 7 Towers Theatre Company
by David Glen Robinson
All’s Well That Ends Well by Shakespeare is not often produced but is commonly referenced by anyone with an interest in the Bard. Now 7 Towers Theatre Company, that small band of Shakespeare specialists, has dropped it into its watch glass for all to examine in performance.
Director Christina Gutierrez, co-founder of the company, returns to Austin from her academic post in Arizona and chooses to reset the play in World War I in recognition of the centenary of the start of The War To End All Wars.
In itself, this change makes few demands on the staging of the play. All’s Well That Ends Well takes place in a time of war, and this cross-time resetting simply brings forward the Bard’s timeless commentaries on war’s fascination.
All's Well is often called a tragicomedy because no character dies in it. It's unconventional in other ways as well. Elizabethan comedies would typically return their characters unharmed and not greatly changed by the end of the play. All’s Well changes a few of its characters to varying degrees and in different dimensions of life such as emotions, health, and prevailing attitudes. These changes somewhat belie the title suggesting happy endings for everyone. Clearly, not all is well at the conclusion.
Suzanne Balling as the Countess delivers her Shakespeare superbly. Balling has many lines in the early scenes of the play, and she recreates for us the magic of Shakespeare’s language, completely captivating the audience. Thereafter, we ride the waves of Elizabethan poetry through five acts.
David J. Boss's portrayal of the courtier Parolles is exceptional. Parolles is a creature of pride, loyalty, and ambition, and he is one of the characters in the play who is changed profoundly before its final act. Boss inhabits his characters like few other actors, and he illuminates Parolles brilliantly. Travis Bedard as Lafew is an impressive courtier for any court, a gentleman with well-honed Shakespearean skills. It’s also a rare treat to see Bedard in spats. Credit goes to costume designer Stephanie Dunbar.
Sam Mercer is Lavach, a self-admitted knave and fool, as utterly inflated and false as any human ever. Mercer’s Lavach is a down-at-heel court jester who fools no one, a simpering fop full of overexaggerated court mannerisms; in this way Lavach mocks all such artifice and pretension. The Countess keeps him around to maintain a little perspective and carry out minor espionage. Mercer identifies a Shakespearean gem in the character of Lavach and polishes him for us. Well done.
The King of France drives the plot with his rapid-fire monologues. Steven Price launches his scenes to heights of emotionality with his voice and poetic orations alone, for he's otherwise immobilized in robes or swathed in sashes and medals in his throne room. After all, a king is expected to change things, people, and events without himself being changed. Shakespeare defeats Elizabethan expectations, because this king is changed profoundly through the play. Early in the action he is ill unto death, weak and requiring help to stand; then he returns to health the curative ministrations of Helena (Sara Cormier). Thereafter he exercises kingly power and metes outjudgment to all coming under his sway. One wonders if the entire play is not Shakespeare’s mysterious experiment with reflexivity and change in the comedic form. Let’s not even consider the title.
Another transformation awaits fans of the Dougherty Arts Center. The 7 Towers company has reversed the playing space. Its spare stage rises in what normally would be the house seating, and the house faces it with the proscenium behind the audience, although the back rows are elevated up on the proscenium front platform where they share space with the makeshift tech booth. This is largely novelty and makes little difference to the staging of the play.
For 7 Towers, however, the change means that the house seating is restricted to an estimated thirty seats (equals thirty tickets sold per performance). Surely more than thirty Shakespeare aficionados per night would want to attend this rarely produced but fascinating tragicomedy? We recommend the show to anyone who attends the theatre.
1110 Barton Springs Road
Austin, TX, 78704
Tickets $10 - $20 plus service fee at BrownPaperTickets