"What the hell does she see in him?"
If you've ever uttered those words about a friend — someone weirdly interested in a person who possesses less-than-obvious character strengths — you're sure to be partial to All's Well That Ends Well. One of Shakespeare's less-produced romantic comedies, now at the Great Lakes Theater Festival, it features two rather unappealing people as the major "love" interest.
Helena, a ward of the Countess of Rossillion, spent her early life chilling with the royal family, as her dad was the court physician. During that time, she developed a monster crush on the Countess' son Bertram, a handsome fellow who's now grown up and on his way to serve the ailing King of France, along with Bertram's dim-witted soldier buddy, Parolles.
Bert, who's about as warm and cuddly as a dead perch, is forced to marry Helena. But he opts to go to war instead of bedding the wife he despises. On his way out, he claims he will never accept Helena until she wears his ring (problem: He never takes it off) and bears his child (problem: fat chance).
Given that challenge, Helena spends the rest of the play involved in sly subterfuges, as she maneuvers her way into Bert's stony heart. Caught somewhere between drama and comedy, this production, under the direction of Charles Fee, has moments of charm and wit separated by frequent stretches of enervating blather.
Lending excellent comic relief are David Anthony Smith as the vocabulary-challenged and cowardly Parolles, and Jeffrey C. Hawkins, who plays the Countess' clown, Lavatch, with brio and a nicely modified Groucho Marx stride.
In the central roles, Markus Potter is suitably chilly as Bertram, and Sara M. Bruner capably displays Helena's OCD impulses, although the rhythm of her speech tends to be mechanical at times. And since we never really cheer for either, the happy ending alluded to in the title is somewhat less than enchanting.
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