All's Well That Ends Well
There won't be much of a demand for Shakespeare in the Park tickets this summer - at least not the kind that makes people camp out overnight to see Anne Hathaway ("Twelfth Night") or Al Pacino ("The Merchant of Venice").
Not only is the Public Theater performing two of the less popular Shakespeare dramas - "All's Well That Ends Well" and "Measure for Measure" - the cast performing both plays on alternating nights is devoid of the kind of A-list celebrities that have headlined these productions in recent years.
"All's Well That Ends Well," in light of its uneasy blend of comedy and dark psychological elements, is usually described as a romance or so-called "problem play."
Helena (Annie Parisse), the play's heroine, is hopelessly in love with Bertram (André Holland), the royal-blooded son of her guardian (Tonya Pinkins). After saving the life of the king of France (John Cullum) by using her late father's medical remedies, she wins the right to marry Bertram against his will.
Bertram, not too thrilled with the arrangement, deserts her and vows that he will never be with her unless she can steal a ring from his finger and become pregnant with his child. Rather than accept the fact that Bertram's just not that into her, Helena devises a complicated "bed trick" in order to win her husband back.
Although Daniel Sullivan's scenically spare staging, set in 1918, is straightforward and generally enjoyable, it is hampered by a fundamental problem with the casting: Parisse is considerably older than Holland. Although it has always been unclear why Helena dotes so feverishly upon Bertram, her devotion now seems especially creepy in light of the age difference.
Problems aside, Parisse gives a fine performance that emphasizes Helena's transformation from an awkward sadness to a fierce determination.
Pinkins, who is best known for her musical theater roles, makes for an elegant and loving countess.
Although Cullum's accent makes him sound more like the king of Tennessee than France, the 81-year-old stage veteran provides a lively and commanding presence.
If you go: "All's Well That Ends Well" plays in repertory with "Measure for Measure" through July 31. Go to publictheater.org for complete info on how to obtain free Shakespeare in the Park tickets and directions to the Delacorte Theatre in Central Park.