Of "All's Well That Ends Well," director Jon Jory once observed that it "simply begs to be played in repertory with itself."
This disputed Shakespeare has its dark side and its sunlit, tomfoolery side. To open the Hartke Theater's season, director Edward Cashman has chosen still another, a romantic aspect.
The tone is set in the Edwardian dress Joseph Lewis has picked for the costumes and the airy, charming settings and lighting devised by Joseph St. Germain, new to the staff. If there is military mockery in the wittily elaborated episodes of marching soldiers, there is romantic grace in the charmingly elaborated episodes of Continental court life.
More faithful to its source (Boccaccio) that the usual re-workings of Shakespeare, the story is rooted in two fairy-tale sources: magical healing and resolution of tasks. To win her man, Helena must cure a king of apparently fatal illness and then accomplish certain tasks. Bertram, her objective, declares he will not consider Helena his wife until she is wearing his ring and carrying his child. Helena accomplishes this by substituting herself in someone else's bed.
The concept fits the now-romantic period chosen, and Denise Correa has spirited appeal as one of Shakespeare's loveliest heroines. In today's world, Bertram is even more despicable a fellow than he was when Elizabeth I's long reign was ending, an insufferable snob. Paul Maginnis at least tackles the role with romantic appeal.
As Parolles, Anthony Risoli has the dash for character and for the play's ultimate point, now more easily grasped than when early commentators were sniffing at its conflicting moods.
Laura Jo Watkins, Bob Fernandez and Tom Aldridge are other substantial leads, though verse as a season's opener poses problems. Catholic University's cast has improved on recent diction, though its vocal projection is erratic.
The romantic concept eases the play but one still questions what a girl like Helena sees in a lout like Bertram, Romanticism, director Cachman seems to suggest, is the only answer.