Mahoning Valley Players concludes its ’21 summer season ‘Well’
YOUNGSTOWN — “All’s Well That Ends Well” isn’t one of William Shakespeare’s best known plays, but it’s a story that will ring familiar to audiences, according to director Carla D. Gipson.
“It’s who knows what, who’s fooling who, guys trying to get girls by any means,” she said. “There are tricks and deceptions.”
The play, which is considered one of Shakespeare’s comedies but has its serious elements, will be staged by Mahoning Valley Players this weekend at Wick Recreation Area’s Judge Morley Pavilion.
Gipson liked the idea that “All’s Well that Ends Well” isn’t one of the Bard’s more produced works, and she picked it even though she wasn’t that familiar with it initially.
“I’m certainly not a Shakespeare expert, but I’m good enough of a director to read a script, decipher it and put it together and also tell the story,” she said.
The story focuses on Helena, a countess’ ward who falls in love with with her employer’s son, Bertram. The ward’s father was a physician, and she claims she can heal the ailing king. When the king gets better, he allows her to pick a husband from the kingdom. She picks Bertram. They have a ceremony, but Bertram says he only will marry her if she carries his child and wears his family ring.
Bertram goes to war in Italy, where he falls in love with a young virgin, and Helena hatches an elaborate plan to make Bertram’s demands come true.
“It’s one of those stories where every turn there’s a twist,” Gipson said. “There are opportunities for comic relief. There are those opportunities to show off that melodramatic Shakespeare style. It’s a mix of everything that’s happening with servants and royalty, people who are just deceptive and no good and people sweeter than anybody could be.
“The thing I’m really enjoying is I’ve got some good actors who are carrying the story. They’re able to get a good interpretation and able to deliver it.”
That cast features Melissa Magan, Emelia Sherin, Stephanie Chavara, Paul Dahman, Terry Shears, AnnMarie Lowerre, Hunter Thomas, Richard Smiley, Brian K. West, Mitchell Sharp, Frank Matthews, James A. Locker, Robert K. Ellway, Monica Beasley-Martin and Lena Sophia Dill.
MVP Executive Director Kim Akins said she was impressed with the cast as well.
“Most of these people have never worked with Mahoning Valley Players before they got cast,” she said. “I saw a couple rehearsals and thought, ‘Wow, where have all these people been hiding?'”
Because MVP stages its productions at Judge Morley Pavilion under natural light, Gipson looked for a shorter edit of the original script so the actors wouldn’t be playing the final moments in darkness. However, she felt the edited version left out some good scenes so she added a few back to the final version, which still should run less than two hours, even with a brief intermission.
Most auditions were done virtually and Gipson took some steps in rehearsals and blocking to create a safe environment for the performers, but COVID-19 hasn’t been a problem in preparing the show.
The bigger fear is weather.
Rain forced the postponement of two of the three performances for MVP’s first summer production, “The Complete Works of Shakespeare (Abridged).” With a larger cast for “All’s Well That Ends Well,” there are no other dates when everyone is available if the rain returns.
Akins is optimistic about the weather and already is thinking about next year.
“Because of the pandemic, we want to do, as Ed Sullivan used to say, a really big shoo,” she said. “I’m looking at doing ‘The Tempest’ next year as the one big production. It’s a big show, fairly well known and we may gender swap the lead. I’m just looking forward to continuing. We lost two years with the pandemic and some other things, and I’m excited to get back.”