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All’s Well That Ends Well takes no prisoners

A comedy about overcoming impossible demands opens Tulane Shakepeare’s 25th season

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Shakespeare's works generally are separated into two categories: comedies and tragedies. There isn't an empowerment section of his works. But All's Well That Ends Well offers a case for re-examination.

  Helena, its heroine, explains her outlook, "Our remedies in ourselves oft do lie."

  She's of a lower class than Bertram, the man she loves. She also has no illusions about the young lord. He's a "notorious liar," she says. But she pursues his affection.

  All's Well That Ends Well opens the 25th season of the New Orleans Shakespeare Festival at Tulane June 1-17. It's the festival's first production of the play, which is one of a few Shakespearean works built around a woman character.

  "One of the first things that caught my attention in the play is what a strong, resourceful, perceptive female lead it has," says director Amy Boyce Holtcamp, who moved to New Orleans after she directed Julius Caesar for the company in 2011. "She's essentially a doctor. A woman character who is a proficient doctor in a play from hundreds of years ago is exciting."

  All's Well That Ends Well could be called All's Fair in Love and War given Bertram's impossible demands and the ruses and trickery employed throughout. Helena reveals her interest in Bertram to his mother, the Countess. Bertram is more interested in going to France, where he becomes an attendant to the King. Helena follows, in part to help the King, who is ill. The daughter of a renowned doctor, Helena has learned to practice medicine and offers to heal the King. She asks in exchange that if he recovers she be allowed to choose her husband. The King recuperates and grants her wish. Bertram doesn't like the idea but can't defy the King. Instead, he agrees as long as Helena meets a few of his seemingly impossible demands. But before she even can try, he flees to join a war in Tuscany, where he spends much of his time seducing virgins. Helena must figure out a way to be with him.

  "It's really an inversion of a typical play in which the two lovers are from the opposite sides of the track and the world is against them," Holtcamp says. "This flips that. The whole community is totally on her side. The King, the Countess, Bertram's mother, everyone is like, 'She's smart, she's pretty, why don't you want her?'"

  The comedy is grounded in Ber-tram's dogged disinterest in Helena and her determination to overcome all the obstacles he throws in her way. There also are devious interlopers who hope good fortune falls their way and a stream of bawdy metaphors about love and war.

  Holtcamp has given the production a patina of the 1940s with an air of fairy-tale-ish love from the era's big band music and popular entertainment.

  The 2018 season also includes Macbeth, a staged reading of King Lear, a cabaret performance created by Leslie Castay called The Food of Love and an improvised version of Julius Caesar by members of The NOLA Project.

  The New Orleans Shakespeare Festival debuted in 1994 with productions of Much Ado About Nothing and King Lear. It has presented more than 25 of Shakespeare's plays as well as a few original works inspired by Shakespeare such as Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead and classic plays including The Importance of Being Earnest.

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