'All's Well' With This Quincy Production

Sometimes the classics really are the best; Quincy House Drama Society’s no-frills production of William Shakespeare’s All’s Well That Ends Well was a highlight of the season. Much credit is due to graduate student Brett W. Gamboa for his choice of play; All’s Well is one of the most undeservedly neglected pieces in Shakespeare’s canon. Its unsatisfying resolution and prickly comedy may make it unpopular among directors, but it is a sure delight to audiences.

All’s Well is a sort of fractured fairy tale. Helena (Caroline T. Koo ’04), a poor physician’s daughter, is in love with her foster brother, Bertram (Simon N. Nicholas ’07). However, she considers him too far above her in rank for marriage—until she realizes that she can use her dead father’s notes to make a medicine that will cure the King of France (graduate student Nicholas J. O’Donovan) and compel him, out of gratitude, to allow her to marry Bertram. Everything goes swimmingly until Bertram makes it clear that he has no interest in his adoptive sister and runs away from court instead of marrying her. He leaves a mocking note, which she takes as a challenge: if she can get an ancestral ring from his finger and become pregnant with his child, he’ll marry her.

The QHDS’ production was a very simple one. The set was two pillars up front with some gauzy fabric stretched between them, sometimes a throne in the middle of the stage and a fleur-de-lis pattern projected on the back wall to indicate the French court. Sound was similarly no-frills, largely limited to a few trumpets and introductory music (composed by Douglas A. Balliett ’05) vaguely reminiscent of “Masterpiece Theater.” The costumes, designed by Gladys Lee, were effective and appropriate to the period but not particularly striking. The focus of this production was on the acting, and in that regard it did not disappoint.

Not every cast member was outstanding, but there were enough good and very good actors to constitute a strong ensemble. Joseph P. Fishman ’05, in the minor and unenviable role of the sensible old Lord Lafew, brings out all the humor of his part. His insulting, impudent exchanges with the cowardly braggart Parolles (Joseph H. Weintraub ’05) played up the contrast between Lafew’s matter-of-fact barbs and Parolles’ fuming impotence. As Parolles, Weintraub got his laughs in, but from unusual places: during a scene in which he unknowingly slandered all his friends before their faces, the comedy came more from their reactions than from his lies; but other scenes—for example, when he bowed low to Helena only to have her completely ignore him—well made up for the lack.

As the clown, Josh C. Phillips ’07 proved himself a promising actor. Unfortunately, most of his jokes were obscure Elizabethan puns that went over the heads of the audience; a more physical and illustrative reading of some of the sexual jokes, for example, would have put those laughs in the right places. But his unaffected, “What, did I say something funny?” attitude made the jokes that people did get all the more funny.

Koo, in the starring role, showed a great deal of emotion—or at least I think she did. Since she showed dejection (and she was dejected a lot of the time) consisting mostly of staring at her feet in the corner of the stage, it was hard to tell what she was feeling. She never really projected the resolve and strength that characterized Helena. She came off best in the first part of the play, when she was weepy and despairing; she showed less skill as a resourceful and bold heroine, although she exhibited flashes of those qualities in her argument with the King.

As Bertram, Nicholas had the opposite tendency— he grew better as the play progressed. He certainly showed arrogance, but not as much as one would hope (indeed, it seemed almost a waste of talent that Gamboa failed to draw more on the naturally occurring arrogance of young, egotistical Harvard students). But this isn’t to disparage Nicholas; he did give a strong performance, especially during his attempted seduction of Diana (Emily V. W. Galvin ’04), his would-be lover.

This production was full of moments that wrapped the audience in wonder: when O’Donovan overcame his lack of resemblance to an aged, dying monarch to make his surprisingly moving outburst at his impending death; when Parolles was forced to go, cap in hand, to a man who detested him; and when the King told Diana that she could marry any lord she liked—and Diana responded with a smile so bright that it lit up the hall. There was a lot of magic in this All’s Well.

—Crimson Arts Critic Alexandra D. Hoffer can be reached at hoffer@fas.harvard.edu.