All’s Well at APT
A woman marries the love of her life against his will, fakes her death when he abandons her, follows him to Italy, meets his mistress, impersonates her to get pregnant by him, and returns home just in time to keep him from getting arrested for her murder.
And this is a comedy. No one ever said Shakespeare would be simple.
All’s Well That Ends Well, the second show of the American Players Theatre summer season, features Ally Carey as Helena, the poor, orphaned daughter of a famous physician. She struggles to win the love and respect of Matt Schwader’s Bertram, the son of her patron, the Countess of Rossillion (Tracy Michelle Arnold).
The lower-class Helena can’t wed Bertram until she uses her father’s medicines to save the life of the King (Jonathan Smoots), who grants her the gift of any bachelor’s hand in marriage. She chooses Bertram, but he rejects her.
But he offers a challenge: He will marry her if she can get the family ring from his finger and become pregnant with his child. Never happen? Famous last words.
The nuanced acting this cast displayed is absolutely necessary to keep the characters appealing. It would be easy to dislike both romantic leads, who are cold and manipulative at times.
Carey and Schwader give us glimpses of feeling souls behind their heartless facades. For every scene where Carey’s Helena shameless uses those around her — for example, she buys the help of her husband’s mistress with a bulging sack of gold — there is one in which her sharp, edgy demeanor cracks. Through the cracks, we see a caring person.
Schwader develops Bertram organically over the course of the play. His Bertram begins like a frat boy going to his first real job. He puts on a pompous show for the King, but he really wants to be free to go off to war with the boys. But when he learns of Helena’s supposed death, he fills with visible regret. The jolt brings out feelings for Helena he didn’t know he had. It makes him ready to accept Helena when she returns triumphant.
The cast around the lovers supports their romantic struggle well. Arnold stands out, portraying the Countess as Helena’s match in manipulative wiles. But the Countess’s scheme fails, ending with Helena’s apparent death and Bertram’s implication in her murder. Arnold shows us the Countess’ grief; she seems to age years as the play progresses.
Jim DeVita, as the semi-villainous Parolles, provides the play’s comic relief. DeVita inhabits the soul of this flamboyant, retreat-prone career soldier. He shines beams of comic light into the darkest moments of the play.
This comedy is bittersweet. Helena does not truly win Bertram’s heart—just his respect and acknowledgment.
But this production’s makes you believe that love could come of all this heartbreak and complication. Through her trials, Helena proves to Bertram she is worthy of his love. By his suffering, Bertram learns he is not worthy of hers, but accepts it nonetheless. That’s not a bad resolution to such a fierce battle of hearts.
All’s Well That Ends Well will continue through Oct. 1 at American Players Theatre outdoor facility in Spring Green, Wis. Tickets can be purchased at 608-588-2361or online at americanplayers.org.