London upstages ND
By LOUBEL CRUZ
Although it is not as popular or as frequently performed as Shakespeare's other classics, "All's Well That Ends Well" brings its own unique identity to the theater stage. The play is categorized not as a tragedy or as a classic comedy, like many of its legendary predecessors, but as a "problem play," with prominent themes like the conflicts between old and new, age and youth, wisdom and stupidity, reason and passion.
Therefore, it would be fitting that the King proclaims, "All yet seems well," during the course of the play. In "All's Well," Shakespeare collects old customs, devices and characters to create a new fairy tale, with a mark of tradition and revealing insights.
Notre Dame students will have the rare opportunity to see five of Britain's best actors perform "All's Well That Ends Well" when it continues its run on the main stage of Washington Hall Wednesday through Saturday. The talented troupe is the Actors from the London Stage, who have been invited by the Film, Television and Theatre department for a two-week residency during which they will visit more than 50 classes at Notre Dame, Saint Mary's, Indiana University South Bend and 11 area high schools. The actors will also present three lecture/recitals and six performances of "All's Well That Ends Well."
"Actors from the London Stage is unique in that it is a performing troupe whose created mission is pedagogical," said Tom Barkes of Washington Hall. "They spend more time in the classroom when they are here than on stage performing."
The goal of the Actors from the London Stage is to help unlock the mysteries of Shakespeare's English with their main focus being the language — what it means and what it demands from the actors. By the end of their two week residency, the actors will have met the classes of 43 teachers and professors, actually asking students to get up and perform scenes and act as a characters.
"I would hope that they [the students] would experience the joy of Shakespeare," said Barkes. "I hope that students learn that Shakespeare wrote about real people who express real emotion that is relevant today as when it was written."
In "All's Well That Ends Well," like in many of their previous performances, the Actors from the London Stage has only five actors to perform all the parts. With simple costume changes and minimal set, the actors transform from character to character without leaving the stage, giving the audience a unique perspective on the craft of acting.
"When we begin a play, we start from scratch," said Paul McCleary, a member of the Actors from the London Stage. "No one tells us this is the way it should be done. It is a group of actors who get together and decide which is the best way to perform the play.
"The idea of minimal props and costumes puts the focus on the actors and the script. It is up to us how to create the whole atmosphere closer to how Shakespeare performed it in his time," said McCleary.
This play is one that the actors are especially excited about because it is not frequently performed.
"`All's Well That Ends Well' is a complex love story, full of various types of redemption and love," said Eunice Roberts, a member of Actors from the London Stage. "Students should take this opportunity to see this play because it is so rarely performed."
"All Well" takes place in 16th century France and Italy and begins when Bertram, Count of Rousillon, is called to the court to serve the King of France, who is ill of a disease all the royal physicians have failed to cure. In the entire country, the only doctor who might cure the king is now dead. On his deathbed, he gives to his only daughter, Helena, his books and papers describing the cures for all common and rare diseases, among them the one suffered by the king.
Helena is the ward to the Countess of Rousillon, who thinks of her as a daughter. She falls in love with Bertram and wants him for a husband, while Bertram considers Helena only slightly above a servant and would not consider her for a wife.
The story takes on a twist when Helena hits upon a plot to gain Bertram for a mate in such a fashion as to leave him no choice in the matter. With her knowledge of the king's illness, she journeys to the court and by offering her life as forfeit if she fails, she gains the king's consent to try her father's cure for him. If she wins, the young lord of her choice is to be given to her in marriage. Helena cures the King, and asks for Bertram for her husband, who refuses the proposal. What follows is part farce-comedy and part serious insight, which portrays the blindness brought about by prejudices formed.
Roberts, now in her fifth tour, plays three parts in the play, including two male, believes that this play will "bring a new insight to Shakespeare for the audience."
McCleary, who first started working with the Actors from the London Stage in 1997, plays the King of France as one of his two parts.
"It is somewhat of an advantage not to know the story line of this play when you come to see it," said McCleary. "The ending is not something you would expect and you don't know what will happen. It's just good fun."
All Scene Stories for Monday, February 21, 2000