Free For All: the Bard's 'All's Well That Ends Well'
One way to tell that the 2012-2013 theater season is just around the corner, if not upon us, is the arrival of the newest edition of the Shakespeare Theatre Company’s annual Free For All production which serves as both a climax to the previous season and a signal for the coming of the next one.
The 22nd Annual Free For All Production started this week and runs through Sept. 5 at Sidney Harman Hall with a production of Shakespeare’s sparkling, romantic, enigmatic comedy, “All’s Well That Ends Well.” Tickets, as the program title suggests, are free.
The Shakespeare Theatre Company’s artistic director Michael Kahn was the original director of this production, a task which will now be handled by Jenny Lord who was assistant director on the original production in the 2010-2011.
A large part of the original cast returns from that production, most notably Oscar-nominated actress Marsha Mason who reprises her role as the Countess of Rossillion, Ted van Griethuysen as the King of France, Miriam Silverman in the difficult lead role of the play's heroine Helena and Paxton Whitehead as Lafew, a prominent member of the court.
Helena is always something of a problem child—a female character who’s smart, brave, determined, and dogged, determined against all odds to make a man who’s obviously wrong for her love her, surmounting obstacle after obstacle. She’s a child of the court where her father was doctor to the king, and save the king, gets a wish to wed any man she wants. The man she wants is the aristocratic, noncommittal-to-a-fault Count Bertram, who invents new levels of boorishness to avoid being wed to Helena. Things, as they say, happen and complications ensue. A Shakespeare play is always full of surprises, trap doors and characters to whom attention must be paid. In this case, the king’s wisdom, which van Griethuysen lets shine through with authority and wisdom, and the strong-willed kindness of the Countess Rossillion as displayed quietly by Mason are key factors, as well as Silverman’s marvelous and appealing resilience as Helena. Watch out for the character of Parolles, a paragon of not being a paragon, or as one of his friends marvels, “He knows what he is, and he is still what he is,” or words to that effect.
The Free for All, an annual, full-scale production of one of the company’s previously and recently performed production, has become both a tradition and a gift for Washington theater goers since it was originated by Kahn and Robert Linowes 22 years ago . Since then, some 630,000 patrons have attended since the first production of “The Merry Wives of Windsor.” Until the series was moved to Sidney Harman Hall, its productions were staged outdoors at Carter Barron Ampitheatre. The series managed to combine aspects of giving back to the community by staging high-quality, full-blown Shakespearean plays while at the same time creating new audiences for the theater.
For more information on the Free For All's tickets, dates and times, visit the Shakespeare Theatre Company website