It's exciting to see local companies getting outside their comfort zones and staging productions of Shakespeare's less frequently produced plays. October found New Moon Theatre Company wrestling with the famously bloody Titus Andronicus. This holiday season the Tennessee Shakespeare Company (TSC) moves into uncharted waters with a rare production of All's Well That Ends Well, which runs through December 20th at the Dixon Gallery & Gardens.
TSC's latest undertaking explores the mysticism at the heart of this dark comedy and asks what it means when women undertake the classic, usually masculine, hero's journey. All's Well That Ends Well — sometimes described as a "problem play" due to formal irregularities — is inspired by Boccaccio's sprawling 14th-century story collection, The Decameron. It tells the story of Helena, the low-born charge of Spanish aristocrats with healing gifts inherited from her father. She sets out to marry a young nobleman named Bertram whose appetite for adventure includes a taste for fighting wars and rampant virgin defilement. The clever and gifted suitor, Helena, follows him first to Paris and later Italy in a play chock-full of life-or-death bargains, bed tricks, and faked deaths.
Like the wittier and more frequently produced Much Ado About Nothing, All's Well That Ends Well lays bare the similarities between love and war. The journey is fraught with trouble and tragedy, but the play ultimately lives up to the promise embedded in its title.
Under the direction of founding executive Dan McCleary, TSC's latest production is a neoclassical fantasy inspired by the artwork of Maxfield Parrish, an American illustrator whose work is most closely associated with A Midsummer Night's Dream.