Marin Shakespeare Company closes its summer season with the challenging comedy "All's Well That Ends Well," in which a young woman risks death and other indignities to marry the man of her dreams.
It's no spoiler that the story lives up to its title, at least from the perspective of Helena (Carla Pauli), who achieves her goal of becoming the wife of Bertram (Adam Magill). The challenge comes in accepting the absolute faith she places in her love of such a callow, self-centered youth.
Pauli radiates a wonderfully soulful stoicism and quiet determination in Helena's contemplation of marriage to a man far above her social station. A seemingly simple soul, she's not above plotting a bit of mistaken identity deception to meet the rude challenge her ill-mannered husband sets before her.
As the obstacle to her happiness, Magill's Bertram is believably petulant as a handsome, shallow, privileged guy who gets stuck in a deal he did not make. He must wed as his king commands, but that does not stop him from taking every chance to derail the marriage and treating his new wife with very public disrespect.
There are no crossed stars here. It's a rueful one-way street. This leaves Pauli and Magill neither broad comedy nor pent-up romance to employ. Instead, they must play Shakespeare's text, and for both it is an area for growth, as the poetry and cadence of the language do not yet flow completely trippingly for them.
This is not an issue for the rest of the cast.
James Hiser is a wonderfully vainglorious fool with the scheming, weasel Parolles, Bertram's companion. He truly struts and frets his lot, clearly unable to help himself from engineering his own downafall.
As Bertram's mother, the Countess, Jessica Powell plays regal pragmatism framed in great heart. It clearly pains her that her son is such a dolt. Jack Powell (they are husband and wife) is a serious, but salty, King who will brook no shenanigans from the spoiled youth.
A wonderful burst of emotional color and energy come from Heather Cherry and Luisa Frasconi as the life-loving mother and daughter who befriend and aid Helena.
Scott Coopwood is an earnest, imposing Lafeu, who tries to be a mentor to Bertram; and humorously low-key observation of the contrivances of plot are made by Lucas McClure as Lavatch. McClure also wrote the selection of songs he plays throughout.
Nimbly directed by Robert Currier, this seldom-produced piece of Bard is a head-scratcher for its leading character's quest, but a pleasant diversion benefiting from a strong ensemble.REVIEW
All's Well That Ends Well
Presented by Marin Shakespeare Company in repertory with "A Comedy of Errors"
Where: Forest Meadows Amphitheatre, 890 Belle Ave., San Rafael
When: 8 p.m. most Fridays-Sundays; closes Sept. 28
Tickets: $20 to $37.50
Contact: (415) 499-4488, www.marinshakespeare.org