Under the blue steel girders of the Riverfront Park Amphitheater, one can now see Shakespeare as performed by local, hardworking volunteer actors.
Despite some of their best efforts, Shakespeare on the Grand’s production of “All’s Well That Ends Well” simply provides another example of why free Shakespeare is not always the best, and why “All’s Well” is an unpopular, rarely performed play.
Director Lindsay Palinsky had directed only one production before her Shakespearian debut, and it shows. The actors all move to where they are supposed to, but Palinsky’s direction only covers the basics, leaving it up to the audience to interpret the script, instead of the actors.
One of the most confusing elements is also one of least concern, which is the updated costuming. Palinsky resets this “problem play” somewhere in the 1940s, as is indicated by the dresses and military uniforms. But while the play and its characters still refer to the maiden country of France and go to fight for the Duke of Florence, Italy, the soldiers clearly wear U.S. Army apparel and carry around a vintage American flag.
The costumes really are inconsequential when rated next to the underplayed performances.
Garrett Clinard does not play the king of France as much as simply read his lines. Conveniently, his character remains seated throughout the play’s duration, giving Clinard (a City Pulse employee) full use of the script on his lap. But even with his script, Clinard fails to provide the necessary momentum his character should in order to create a dramatic and thrilling conclusion instead of a sadly beleaguered one.
Although his lines are memorized, Mark Polzin as the central character, Bertram, gives his darkly sarcastic words little life. Instead of layering his barbs with audible contempt, he often sounds beaten and whipped himself, succumbing to his circumstances instead of sneering at them.
Only Steve Ledyard and Kris Vitols give their characters enough life to be visually engaging. Vitols’ portrayal of Lavatch was this critic’s favorite, but Ledyard’s performance of the despicable Captain Parolles incited much audience amusement on Friday.
The rest of the cast keeps the show moving without too much struggle, but no one else musters any sincere emotions to push their characters and the play ahead. The cloth backdrops, designed by Rita Deibler, work nicely as a timeless, makeshift set, and the cast carried on Friday even with numerous interruptions blaring from the fire station across the street and the wind, which turned the backdrops into ship sails.
Shakespeare ultimately does not need a big budget, and this company, understandably, wishes to fulfill a public need of the classics. But Shakespeare on the Grand needs time — time to find actors who can credibly create the characters onstage, time to rehearse the complex dialogue and time to polish a production, even if it is free to the public.
For now, Shakespeare on the Grand should refocus its energies with less ambitious projects. Until then, give the Bard, and the audience’s patience, a rest.
‘All’s Well That Ends Well’
Through Aug. 9 7 p.m.
Thursday-Sunday Shakespeare on the Grand, Riverfront Park Salt Shed,
west bank of the Grand River, off of Grand Avenue, Lansing.