ALL'S WELL THAT ENDS WELL Set for Shakespeare in the Parking Lot This July
Shakespeare in the Parking Lot, presented by The Drilling Company, opens its 23rd season July 6 to 22 with "All's Well That Ends Well," directed by Karla Hendrick. It's the first time this play has been presented in a parking lot, ever.
Helena is the only daughter of a famous French physician. Although a gentlewoman, she is not nobility, and for that the man she loves, a count named Bertram, her rank is not enough. He rejects her but she follows him to the court of the King of France, who is ailing. Bearing her father's potions, she offers to cure the monarch on a gamble: if he dies, she will submit to execution, but if he lives, she can choose a husband from anyone in his court. She chooses Bertram, who is forced to marry her and does, but he flees immediately after the ceremony to Italy to fight in the Tuscan Wars. He issues an impossible challenge: he will only be Helena's husband after she has borne his child and wears his family ring. In Italy he distinguishes himself as both a warrior and a seducer of local girls. Helena tails him to Italy, where she befriends Diana, a virgin he is smitten with. Helena poses as Diana in his dark bedchamber and Diana manages to obtain Bertram's ring in exchange for one of Helena's. So the marriage is complete, whereupon Helena fakes her own death to lure Bertram home. Back in France, Bertram tries to marry the daughter of a Lord but Diana breaks up the engagement with her revelations. Bertram, impressed by all Helena has done to win him, swears love to her. This resolution fulfills the proverb: all's well that ends well. The play offers side-splitting comedy in the self-serving machinations of Parolles, a disloyal associate of Bertram, and by a clown of Bertram's household. But its moments of levity are interlaced with gut-wrenching pathos, causing it to be labeled one of Shakespeare's "problem plays."
In its previous 22 years, Shakespeare in the Parking Lot has never before presented this tricky play and there is no record of it being produced in any other parking lot. The Drilling Company has been producer of Shakespeare in the Parking Lot since 2006 and is also the exclusive producer of Shakespeare plays in Bryant Park. The troupe has been kicking around the idea of doing this challenging play for about four years.
To director Karla Hendrick, the play's quick shifts in tone are Checkhovian and that is the source of its strength and beauty. She explains that the play might seem to depict a smart woman who falls for the bad boy and makes dumb choices. But viewed through the healing power of the feminine, it becomes a discovery of becoming a woman and what it means to become a man. Helena, on her journey of self-discovery, is driven by her heart and a positive life philosophy. She makes bold choices and is emboldened with each success. Bertram is on a journey too; becoming a war hero and learning what it means to be a man. The play, then, is a Checkhovian coming of age story of two young people united through diverse journeys through despair and darkness.
Ms. Hendrick has chosen to set the piece in southeastern France just before the fascist invasion of World War II. This is to illuminate themes of the muting of women's role and voice, the breakdown of patriarchal systems, and the fight against fascism (or lack of fight). The cloud of an uncertain future is always present; in the end, we don't know what choices Helena and Bertram will make but we are meant to wonder how the impending darkness will deepen their journeys.
The actors are Anwen Darcy, Una Clancy, Michael Bernstein, Michael Gnat, Elaine Ivy Harris, Elowyn Castle, Adam Huff, Mary Linehan, Eric Paterniani, Jarrod Bates, David Sitler and Gabriela Montalvo. Costume design is by Sofia Piccolo and Grace Whittemore. Sound design is by Andrew Keenan.
Assistant director is Andrew Gombas. Stage Managers are Em Hornbeck and Joseph Treimanis. Assistant Stage Manager is Rachel Jeffries.
Karla Hendrick is one of The Drilling Company's most accomplished actresses. Her performance as Betty in "The Norwegians" by C. Denby Swanson, she was cited by The New York Times as one of the Top 25 Quirky and Magical Moments in Theater of 2013. Her other significant roles in the company include the Woyzeck character's psychiatrist in "Reservoir" by Eric Henry Sanders and her performances in both the Parking Lot and Bryant Park in "Hamlet" (Gertrude) and "The Merry Wives of Windsor" (Mistress Ford). She earned a BA in Theater Arts from Mount Holyoke, attended the British American Drama Academy, Oxford and earned an MFA from Brooklyn College. She is a Master Teaching Artist at the Metropolitan Opera Guild. She has been a guest artist-educator at the Pedagogy and Theater of the Oppressed National Conference and a professional artist/panelist at the New England Women's Global Leadership Conference. This is her directorial debut.
The cast is filled with standout actors of The Drilling Company. Anwen Darcy (Helena) stole the show as Mercutio in "Romeo and Juliet" in Bryant Park in 2015. Elowyn Castle (Bertram's mother) directed "The Norwegians" and was commended by The New York Times for her performance in the Parking Lot as Coriolanus' mother Volumnia, the pushy and hard-bitten "Momma Rose of the Roman military." Adam Huff (Bertram) got the girl last summer as Bassanio in "The Merchant of Venice" in the Parking Lot. David Sitler (King of France) was critically praised as Claudius in "Hamlet" and Dogberry in "Much Ado About Nothing." Eric Paterniani and Jarrod Bates are The Drilling Company's leading Shakespearean clowns. The part of The Fool, traditionally played by a man, has been cast with Mary Linehan (Hero in "Much Ado About Nothing" and Bianca in "The Taming of the Shrew"). Michael Bernstein, who plays, was Lucio in "Measure for Measure." Michael Gnat, playing Lafew, was the company's Polonius in "Hamlet" in Bryant Park. Elaine Ivy Harris (Diana) played Celia in "As You Like It."
Shakespeare in the Parking Lot (SITPL) was begun in 1995 by Expanded Arts under the artistic direction of Jennifer Spahr. When Ms. Spahr retired in 2000, an organization known as Ludlow Ten was formed under the direction of Leonard McKenzie. The Drilling Company began co-producing SITPL with Ludlow Ten in 2001. After Mr. McKenzie's retirement in 2005, The Drilling Company was asked to continue the great tradition of Shakespeare in the Parking Lot. A chronology of the year-by-year offerings in the unique setting is available on the Shakespeare in the Parking Lot website, www.shakespeareintheparkinglot.com. The concept of free Shakespeare in a parking lot, presented with a "poor theater" aesthetic, is now widely imitated around the US and around the world, with productions as far away as New Zealand.
In 2014, having lost its Parking Lot when the Seward Park Urban Renewal Area gave way to a giant mixed-used development, The Drilling Company sought a new location in the Lower East Side to continue the spunky Lower East Side tradition. After a nine-month search, the new space adjacent to The Clemente, on Norfolk Street between Delancey and Rivington Streets, was arranged. Like the previous location, it is a working parking lot and has the urban, gritty atmosphere that has made these productions memorable through the years. It is just three blocks from the municipal parking lot where the annual Free Shakespeare festival originated.
Again this year, Shakespeare in the Parking Lot will have a two-show season, with "All's Well That Ends Well" July 6 to 22 and "Henry the Sixth Part Three," directed by Hamilton Clancy, July 27 to August 12.
Beside producing Shakespeare, The Drilling Company (www.drillingcompany.org), led by Artistic Director Hamilton Clancy, is an incubator of new American plays. It produced new works in an intimate theater space at 236 West 78th Street, formerly 78th Street Theater Lab, from 1999 to 2014 and is presently seeking new digs for this aspect of its work. The company is also the exclusive producer of Shakespeare plays for Bryant Park Presents Shakespeare. Info on Bryant Park events: www.bryantpark.org.
"All's Well That Ends Well" will be performed July 6 to 22, Thursdays through Saturdays at 7:00 PM and all admission is free. Seats are available on a first come first served basis, with audience members often arriving early to secure a place. Audience members are welcome to bring their own chairs. Once seats are gone, blankets are spread out. No one has ever been turned away and there's never a wait for tickets.
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