Some consider “All’s Well That Ends Well” one of William Shakespeare’s “problem plays.” Unlike most of his works, it doesn’t fall neatly into the realm of tragedy or comedy; it seems to shimmer somewhere in between.
But it’s exactly this issue that compelled Theatre Arts Professor Rick Hyde to produce the play at Hiram. The show will be performed at the Renner Theater, March 21-22 and March 28-29, 2014.
“It’s a complicated and difficult show, and a lot of people don’t like it at all – and these are things in its favor as far as I’m concerned,” Hyde said. “I’ve always been really interested in how Shakespeare twists forms, how he takes his existing styles and forms of theatre and tweaks them.”
Throughout the play, characters commit themselves to goals the audience may find baffling or shallow. Because of this, “All’s Well” has been an opportunity for many of the cast members to learn how to communicate complex inner character progressions without relying on theatrical cues like explanatory monologues which offer glimpses into characters’ heads.
All’s Well That Ends Well is set in Italy and France and charts the conflicted romance and marriage between Bertram, a young French Count, and Helena, a commoner and the daughter of a talented doctor. To escape Helena’s tenacious advances, Bertram flees from France to Italy and takes up arms in the Tuscan Wars.
The play will run Friday, March 21, and Saturday March 22, as well as the following Friday and Saturday (March 28 and 29). Seating is limited and doors open at 7 p.m. for each performance. Curtain is at 7:30 p.m.
“Making these things clear without inserting an interpretive dance or something at that moment is very, very difficult,” Hyde said. “We’re working hard to try to make a sensible moment out of what a lot of people find to be problematic, but these transformative moments are tough without the aid of editing or music or other things.”
To aid the actors, Hyde is striving to highlight patterns that occur. Throughout the play, characters’ actions resonate in other actions, establishing connections between what first seem like dissimilar events. Hyde suggests that a careful and engaged eye will be able to spot thematic resonances and patterns where they occur and make sense of the play.
Hyde has been pleased with the actors’ ability to rise to the occasion, especially because there are many newcomers to the Hiram stage.
One of these actors is Christine Kindel ’15, an education major who will be playing Helena, one of the play’s primary protagonists. Two years ago, Kindel signed up for an acting and interpretation class at Hiram College called Shakespeare and Performance. That was her first experience with theatre, and after acting in the class performances of “Macbeth” and “Twelfth Night,” she ended up loving it.
“I also love Shakespeare and am really passionate about his works,” Kindel said. “I learned so much about ‘Macbeth’ and ‘Twelfth Night’ by working with them in class and then performing them, so I was excited to have the same experience with ‘All’s Well that Ends Well,’ which I wasn’t as familiar with. This seemed like the perfect opportunity to combine a new interest and an old passion.”
Kindel said that the biggest challenge that she’s faced in the production has been figuring out why people listen to Helena.
“She is a character that easily gets a lot of people on her side,” Kindel said. “She has a monologue in the first scene that starts, ‘Our remedies oft in ourselves do lie.’ This idea really stuck with me, and I realized that she is a person who takes action to solve her own problems, and I think that that conviction and willpower is why people listen.”
Hyde channels most of his directing efforts toward getting his actors to make a connection with their characters, getting them to genuinely understand another human being, as he puts it, in the hope that the actors and, secondarily, the audience can get a better grasp of the human condition.
“We don’t play a certain moment a certain way so that an audience will get it; we play a certain moment a certain way because it is true,” Hyde said. “And then we share that with an audience. There’s a distinction that I make when I’m talking to my directing class between sharing moments with an audience rather than telling moments to an audience.”
As an avid Shakespeare fan, Kindel probably didn’t need much persuading to adopt Hyde’s sharing approach. The thing that she’s looking forward to most about the play is watching the progressions of all the characters.
“Many of the characters change drastically throughout the play, several through moments where all of their defenses suddenly break down and there is no going back,” Kindel said. “I think that these moments and the growth throughout the play make the characters really meaningful. I hope that ‘All’s Well’ leaves the audience with a sense that people can grow and change, because I think that is the really beautiful part of what Shakespeare has done in this play.”
According to Hyde, much of the potential for personal growth and change in “All’s Well” is intimately tied with a certain conception of forgiveness and grace.
“I think it’s our job to keep presenting the fact that the human condition is a difficult one and that, whether we’re being funny about it or whether we’re trying to desperately understand what’s going on in somebody’s head, it’s important to understand that we just have to keep working at this,” Hyde said.
“So yes—it’s a hard play,” Hyde said. “But it’s a harder life. So at least these two hours should be, if not entertaining, enlightening.”