Sunday, February 21, 2010

Musings on All's Well

I went to see the University of Michigan School of Music, Theater and Dance production of All’s Well that Ends Well at the Arthur Miller Theatre in Ann Arbor last night. Student productions sell well, and I didn’t buy a ticket in advance, so I was relieved to score an $18 ticket at the on-site ticket office when I arrived 45-minutes early. An usher told me that the Friday night performance had sold out and the Sunday matinee was also sold out.

The 280 seat Arthur Miller Theatre in the Walgreen Drama Center on U of M’s north campus was designed by Kuwabara Payne McKenna and Blumberg Associates of Toronto and opened in 2006. This was my first opportunity to visit the theater and I was as excited about seeing the space as I was about the performance. I wasn’t disappointed. The Arthur Miller is a brilliant setting, perfect for the dramatic gems produced there. A large thrust stage with no proscenium and minimal wings commands the theatrical space with tiers of seats on three sides and wide entrance aisles for the actors. A modest mezzanine surrounds the stage at a slight elevation. The space is black box, with no frivolities unless one considers high-tech lighting and luscious proportions to be frivolous.

I was grateful to the well-trained students for their effort to bring this strange play to life. Dressed in authentic mid-century modern togs, on a bare stage, armed with clean diction and enthusiasm, they performed as adroitly as many professionals. But this is one weird play. Short scenes whizzed characters on and off stage in bewildering plenitude – the action went on so long that I thought the actors forgot to take an intermission, but director Malcolm Tulip just must have had a hard time knowing where to pause.

And the miserable brute of a hero, Bertram, hardly spoke a word the whole time. His mother defined him. So he sucked. And since we are given no knowledge of why Helena finds him so ineluctably delicious she seemed unworthy, too. The only interesting person in the play is Parolles, but perhaps that was because he was played with such dumbfounded gusto by New York City sophomore Han Park.

I’d been told that All’s Well is not performed very often because of its dramatic difficulties. I’d also been told that All's Well is the most earlishly Oxfordian of the plays, and that is surely true.

For one thing – the play is so full of those awful, insinuating, interminable, jokey sections that I’m sure I wouldn’t find amusing even if I got all the inside, scatological, and sexual innuendo. Really, all those puns about sex organs are so puerile. I doubt that the hick from Stratford would have had the guts to put all that crap in the mouths of aristocrats, nor would he have known where to stick the knives. I admit it’s a debatable point – but it just doesn’t ring true.

Then you have the facts that bloody Bertram, like Oxford, is:
  • a ward of the court
  • sent off to the capital when his daddy dies
  • longs to be a military hero
  • marries a girl who is given wealth and status by the monarch to make her worthy
  • abandons his wife
  • gets the bed trick pulled on him
It’s crazy! In fact, it’s so Oxfordian that it makes me doubt Oxford is the author. I mean, what guy has the insight to lambaste himself like that in public? Sometimes I think Oxford’s first wife, Anne Cecil, is Shakespeare. Now there’s a girl who has a bitch with Bertram!

Arthur Miller Theatre info link: 

Note: I object, on principal, to the affected use of English/Canadian style spelling of the word theater. I thought I was the only one who found it annoying until I ran into an Angelino in Santa Fe who vowed to boycott any US venue using the term theatre. I don't think he gets out much any more.

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