Danel Verdugo, left, plays Helena, with Linda Johnson as the Countess and BullDog as the Clown in "All's Well That Ends Well," the finale to the 2004 Hawaii Shakespeare Festival at Paliku Theatre.

‘All’s Well’ adds
subtle nuances of humor
to Bard’s work

A beautiful and virtuous young woman saves a king's life and is rewarded with marriage to the man of her choice. The chosen one freaks out and enters into the marriage only upon the king's direct order. He then takes off for a war after jotting down a list of seemingly impossible things his wife must do if she ever wishes to consummate the marriage.

"All's Well That Ends Well": Presented by the Hawaii Shakespeare Festival 2004 at Paliku Theatre, Windward Community College, repeating 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and at 4 p.m. Sunday. Tickets are $16 general, $14 for seniors and military, $8 students. Group rate: $12 for 10 or more tickets. Call 235-7433 or visit

Yup, we're talking about "All's Well That Ends Well," the final production of the 2004 Hawaii Shakespeare Festival at the Paliku Theatre.

Danel Verdugo (Helena) stars as the poor but resourceful heroine and plays the role so beautifully that it becomes possible at times to forgive Shakespeare for writing what many consider one of his most problematic comedies, if comedy this is. Michael Burns (Bertram, Count of Rosillion) takes his place among actors who have distinguished themselves playing villains this year with his portrayal of Helena's runaway husband, and whose only apparent redeeming quality is his bravery in battle.

Whether Shakespeare intended it or not, Burns' success in playing Bertram as a sneering slimy churl makes Helena's insistence on the marriage, and her subsequent determination to trick him into having sex with her, seem more an exercise in obsessive self-delusion than love.

Why does she bother, we ask, when she could do better? The answer, as is so often with Shakespeare: "Because the plot requires it," although director R. Kevin Doyle argues in his director's notes that the story should be seen as a fairy tale or miracle play disconnected from real human behavior.

Verdugo wins our allegiance with her first lines and holds our sympathy as Helena speaks of her love for Bertram, saves the king, endures humiliation upon humiliation at Bertram's hands and then sets out on a well-financed quest to bring her fleeing husband to heel. Burns follows his success at making Bertram such a despicable heartbreaker with equally impressive comic work in scenes with Christy Hauptman (Diana), as we watch the creepy, shameless Bertram put the moves on a young virgin.

Stephen Quinn (Parolles) deliverers a consistently believable performance as Bertram's comical blowhard companion. In some stagings of the story, Parolles is played as the guy who leads Bertram astray, but Doyle and Quinn present Parolles as more of a social-climbing follower who basks in the reflected glory of his betters, and who occasionally finds himself promising more than he can deliver in his efforts to retain his place in the entourage.

Linda Johnson (the Countess) sparkles throughout as Bertram's widowed mother and Helena's ally. Craig Howes (King of France) dominates several pivotal scenes with his portrayal of a strong and powerful monarch whose physical presence dwarfs Bertram once Helena has cured him.

Jim Hesse (Lord Lafue) has several entertaining exchanges with Quinn as an elderly nobleman who proves more than a match fighting one-on-one with "Captain" Parolles.

Bulldog (Monsieur La Vatch, a Clown) appears to work extremely hard to connect as the countess's witty but crude court jester. The obviously funny roles are almost always tough ones in Shakespeare, but Bulldog displays a good command of visual techniques as well as the dialogue in wringing as much comic impact possible out of the role. His deliberately wretched work as a bugler adds another comic component. Why it's necessary for him to ask the audience several times if they "get it" after one bit or another is puzzling.

Alvin Chan (Count Dumane, the Elder) and Jonathan D.S. Egged (Count Dumane, the Younger) are worth watching even when they're not the center of the action. Their silent responses to other characters' actions add comic details in key places. A scene in which the two roast marshmallows while plotting the humiliation of Parolles is nicely played as well.

The ensemble work of Hauptman, Sammie Choy (Widow Capulet) and Alissa Joy Lee (Mariana) adds broader comic nuances.

Director Doyle uses a series of images projected on screens at both sides of the stage to indicate changes of location, display details of two important pieces of jewelry and provide additional comic elements. His notes don't mention the importance of video designer Aito Steele's work; among the various images are several that signal the story's turning points.

Original songs, composed by Doyle and Bulldog, have a folkish sound and don't intrude on the story or dilute the Shakespearean experience. Sandra K. Finney's lush costumes give a welcome visual link with traditional court styles. Verdugo's gowns are gorgeous; Quinn's garb is a riot of eye-catching color; the social standing of Chan and Egged is indicated by the richness of their clothing; and Burn's tight black garb further reduces his physical presence in scenes with Howes.

Doyle's cast does justice to the story despite a few rough opening-night moments last Friday. Perhaps by accepting his suggestion that we take the work as a miracle story or fairy tale, it's possible to enjoy "All's Well That Ends Well" as something more than an example of why it's never a good idea to force someone into marriage.

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