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All's Well that Ends Well

By Roger McBain, Evansville Courier & Press
March 25, 2012

ĎAllís Wellí is superb on stage, where stalkers can be heroes

When you want something in the worst way, that may be how you’ll get it.

That’s the case for Helena, the desperate, love-obsessed heroine in William Shakespeare’s “All’s Well that Ends Well.”

The seldom-produced play offers a contrasting partner in the University of Southern Indiana and New Harmony Theatre’s 2012 Repertory Project, pairing Actors Equity professionals with USI students in two productions playing an alternating schedule.

“All’s Well that Ends Well”opened two days after the Repertory Project’s premiere of a stage adaptation of “Pride and Prejudice,” Jane Austen’s novel about a young woman resisting her own attraction for a nobleman willing to cross class lines to marry her.

Shakespeare’s play offers an obverse dilemma. In this story, a lowly gentlewoman desperately in love with a young nobleman employs ethically challenging, if not downright unscrupulous, measures to force the uninterested and unwilling man to wed and bed her.

Director Elliot Wasserman and his cast, designers and crew have tackled the challenge with a seamlessly staged, polished production in USI’s Mallette Studio Theatre.

The 2½-hour show (with one intermission) offers elegant scenic design, rich costuming, effective lighting and projections and impressive performances from professionals, students and Wasserman, who stepped in to play the king of France on short notice.

The play challenges with its convoluted plots and subplots. The biggest problem for me, however, is finding anyone in the story to identify with.

Gwendolyn Snow plays Helena as an honest woman utterly devoted to Bertram. Even so, it’s hard not to see her as a pathetic figure, so obsessed she’s willing to do anything to force or trick Bertram, the son of the Countess of Rossillion, to fulfill her fantasy, regardless of his own wishes. We might sympathize with Bertram if he weren’t such a jerk. Dustin Stephens plays Bertram as a callow, skirt-chasing cad who rejects Helena not so much because he doesn’t love her, but because she is beneath his class.

Wasserman’s king of France comes close to being a sympathetic figure, but he’s also a proud, imperious character who lashes out if not instantly obeyed. The braggart Parolles, portrayed with a Falstaffian panache by Actors Equity player Joseph Bowen; and the fool Lavatch, played with a puckish lasciviousness by Alexander Hellenberg, offer some base, ribald, comic relief.

The most admirable principal character in the play is the Countess of Rossillion, portrayed with an open, palpable sense of affection, concern and humanity by Licia Watson, the show’s other Equity player.

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