Who: Shakespeare in the Pines
What: William Shakespeare’s “All’s Well That Ends Well”
When: Friday, June 24, and Saturday, June 25, 7 p.m. Reception starts at 6 p.m.
Where: Highlands Center for Natural History
Admission: $60, which includes appetizers and drinks
What, exactly is “All’s Well That Ends Well?” Is it a drama? A comedy? A dramedy? Or something else?
The play, one of William Shakespeare’s so-called “problem plays” because of the difficulty in categorizing it, leans toward the comic in this Laark Productions version.
It’s the third year that the Highlands Center for Natural History has hosted “Shakespeare in the Pines” as a fundraiser, and the theatre company takes full advantage of the outdoor space in its performance, beginning the show in the reception area and then continuing it in the open-air Kiwanis Theatre.
It’s the story of Helena (Rebekah Zito), who cures the King of France of a malady that appears to be killing him, although once cured, he shows no ill effects at all. As a reward, the king (Glenn Velguth) offer Rebekah any man from his court as a husband.
She chooses Bertram (Josh Beck), who wants nothing to do with her, because she comes from a poor family and is generally not royalty, but the king forces him to marry her.
Instead, Bertram goes off to war, claiming he will not marry Helena unless she bears his child and wears his family ring. While in Italy, the randy Bertram becomes a war hero and also seduces a virgin.
But he doesn’t realize that Helena is onto him. She sets him up, and when the virgin says she’s entitled to marry him, Helena shows up with the ring and the child.
This leads to the ending which scholars describe as “abrupt,” where, after an entire play of turning Helena away, Bertram changes his mind and accepts her.
But no matter. This is a seriously funny play as presented here.
Zito is, by turns, frustrated, scheming, and always radiant as the girl who knows what she wants and how to get it.
The Shakespearean language is harder than you might think. “It’s really intense, and a lot of times, it puts you into tongue-twisters and riddles, and you just have to trust the rhyme scheme,” she said. “It is quite a challenge.”
Beck has the look and air of the noble swordsman we may expect in the role of the cad. You want to like his Bertram, but the guy’s just such a jerk that, every time he seems like he’s not so bad, he does something mean.
Beck said the cast is so funny, that, at times, “it’s hard to hold it together up there.”
But there’s one character here who steals every scene he’s in: Justus Burkitt, who plays Parolles, Bertram’s foppish friend. Burkitt is maniacal, goofy, and right on the money.
It’s notable, because Justus lives in Utah and rehearsed by himself or via Skype. He rehearsed with the cast just once before the preview show, but you’d never know it.
“It was definitely hard, but we worked through a lot of it,” he said. “It’s such a fun part to play.”
Director Karla Burkitt, who also plays the part of Helena’s mother, said, “It was a little stressful for the actors” not having a major player present, but “we had a good understudy so just plugging him in was easier than you might imagine.”
It’s funny a show, it’s accessible, and it’s well-acted. And the money raised supports educational programs at the Highland Center. It’s a great way to spend a summer evening.
“All Well That Ends Well,” by William Shakespeare and directed by Karla Burkitt, is being presented at the Highland Center for Natural History as a benefit for the Center’s educational programs. Tickets are $60 and include appetizers catered by El Gato Azul and beer and wine by Lonesome Valley Brewery. The show runs June 24 and 25. The reception starts at 6 p.m., the show at 7. Tickets available online at www.highlandscenter.org.