Much Ado About Nothing and All’s Well That Ends Well, presented by the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, Ashland, Oregon,  4 June - 1 November 2009

Geoff Ridden
Southern Oregon University

 Geoff Ridden. “Review of Much Ado About Nothing and All’s Well That Ends Well, presented by the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, Ashland, Oregon, 4 June - 1 November 2009." Early Modern Literary Studies 15.2 (2010-11): 19.1-15 <URL:>

Much Ado About Nothing. Director: Kate Buckley. Scenic Design: Todd Rosenthal. Costume Design: Nan Cibula-Jenkins. Lighting Design: Robert Peterson. Composer and Sound Designer: Sarah Pickett. Dramaturg: Lydia G. Garcia. Voice and Text Director: Sara Phillips. Choreographer: Jim Giancarlo. Fight Director: U Jonathan Tuppo. With David Kelly (Benedick), Robynn Rodriguez (Beatrice), Bill Geisslinger (Leonato), Peter Macon (Don Pedro), Sarah Rutan (Hero), Juan Rivera LeBron (Claudio), Mark Murphey (Antonio), Christopher Michael Rivera (Don John), Todd Bjurstrom (Borachio), David Salsa (Conrade), Elisa Bocanegra (Margaret), Arsene DeLay (Ursula), Mark Bedard (Balthasar), (Dogberry), Michael J. Hume (Verges), Anish Jethmalani (George Seacole), James Jesse Peck (Hugh Oatcake),Tim Blough (Friar/Sexton/Ensemble)

All's Well That Ends Well. Director: Amanda Dehnert. Scenic Design: Christopher Acebo. Costume Design: Linda Roethke. Lighting Design: Dawn Chiang. Composer and Sound Designer: Fabian Obispo. Dramaturg: Lezlie Cross. Voice and Text Director: Lucinda Holshue. Fight Director: Christopher DuVal. With Danforth Comins (Bertram), Kjerstine Rose Anderson (Helena), James Edmondson  (King of France, Ensemble), Dee Maaske (Countess Rossillion), John Tufts (Parolles, Ensemble), G. Valmont Thomas (Lafew, First Lord, Ensemble), Kate Mulligan (Widow, Ensemble), Emily Sophia Knapp (Diane, Ensemble), Armando Durán (Clown, Second Lord, Ensemble)


  1. The Oregon Shakespeare Festival staged two comedies as part of the 2009 season. Both were splendid productions which made excellent use of the contrasting spaces available to the Festival. Much Ado About Nothing fully exploited the outdoor setting of its theatre, with its many levels and the opportunities which those present for complex onstage activity, whilst the more intimate, indoor staging of All's Well That Ends Well allowed for a fast-paced production, reinforced by the doubling of roles by its small ensemble.

    Much Ado About Nothing

  2. The setting of Much Ado was relocated to Italy in 1943, and the location and time frame was established even before any character set foot on the stage: there was period music beforehand from an onstage phonograph - which could be heard playing even in the washroom - and the first scene began with the sounds of aeroplanes overhead. The most prominent feature of the set was a pool downstage, which was converted into a grave  for Hero later in the play. Much use was made of the pool in II.iii, as the hiding place for Benedick (instead of the usual arbor), but the disadvantage was that this enthusiasm for water necessitated having members of the cast come on to dry the stage with mops. Given that the interval came just two scenes later, it was difficult to see why this mopping up was entirely necessary just at this point.

  3. The production was blessed with a uniformly fine cast. David Kelly was magnificent as Benedick, taking on the role with energy and enthusiasm, engaging directly with the audience, and literally throwing himself into the hiding in II.iii, leaping into the pool not once but twice. But even the relatively minor roles of Margaret, Ursula and Friar Francis were performed well. Senior members of the repertory company, such as Mark Murphey, demonstrated once again the extent of their acting range, and Tony DeBruno simply stole the show as Dogberry. His elaborate and comic salute was almost as good a piece of business as Beatrice consuming grapes throughout III.i. Special mention should also be made of the interplay between the male characters Leonato, Don Pedro and Claudio; Peter Macon was especially engaging in this trio.

  4. There was some minor updating of the text: for example, “lira” was substituted for “ducats”. There were also slight adjustments to the roles and even names of some minor characters: Balthazar assumed the role of the messenger at the beginning of the play, and Dogberry became the messenger at the very end. The watchmen were given names in this production, even in the programme: perhaps this idea came late in the development of the production, because these characters are still listed as ‘Watch’ on the OSF website. Borachio (in a fine performance by Todd Bjurstrom) was cast as a waiter who watched over the entire opening scene from the upper level, and later became a humorous drunk, much in the manner of the Porter in Macbeth. One of the questionable effects of playing Borachio as a comic drunk was to take the sting out of the play’s violence; another notable example of this unstinging was in IV.i, where Beatrice’s demand that Benedick should 'Kill Claudio' was met with gales of laughter from the audience (perhaps the otherwise excellent Robynn Rodriguez needed to allow a beat before voicing this demand?). I saw no textual change with which I could raise any quibble, except, perhaps, to wonder why in Much Ado the running joke on 'Deformed' had been omitted (the joke usefully establishes the way in which the members of the watch continue to misinterpret language whenever they are on stage).

  5. Still, as is often the case with the Oregon Shakespeare Festival,  these productions gave fresh insights into the text and into the meanings of words. In Much Ado, the actors displayed great skill in bringing out the text’s wordplay. One example that stood out for me begins in the opening scene, when Benedick, in response to Don Pedro's jibe “In time the savage bull doth bear the yoke” (I.i.261) retorts “The savage bull may, but if ever the sensible Benedick bear it, pluck off the bull’s horns, and set them in my forehead” (262-4); the actor brought out the pun on “savage bull” and “sensible” well, and made more notable its recurrence at V.i.181-2. By emphasizing such wordplay, the actors successfully made the wit of Benedick and Beatrice was accessible to the audience, and their intelligence became truly credible. 

  6. Wordplay was also emphasized if one saw the play alongside Macbeth, with which it was being performed in repertory along with Bill Cain's impressive new play, Equivocation. This combination of plays also drew my ear to the quibble on 'foul' and 'fair' in Much Ado when Claudio addresses Hero in IV.i 103 and to Beatrice's equivocation on 'deny/confess' later in the same scene: “It were as possible for me to say I lov'd nothing so well as you, but believe me not; and yet I lie not: I confess nothing, nor I deny nothing” (IV.i 269-72).

    All’s Well That Ends Well

  7. The setting of All’s Well That Ends Well also appeared to be twentieth century, but an unspecific, undefined period of that century. The costumes, especially those of Diane and her mother, suggested the 1950s but some of the music came from the 1960s, and scene I.ii included a map at the rear of the stage which had the words ‘Italy in the XV Century’ in its corner.

  8. The set brought to mind Waiting for Godot: it was dominated by a bare tree upstage, with a swing hanging from one branch and a clothes line from another, across which a sheet could sometimes be drawn. At the front of the stage was a film projector, which was to play a significant role in the performance. The flooring of the stage consisted of simple bare boards; a gramophone sat alongside the tree by the swing. 

  9. The sense of a reference to Waiting for Godot was reinforced by the figure of the Clown, who was the first character to appear onstage. He was played by Armando Durán, one of the Festival’s finest actors, who was ubiquitous in this production, transforming himself into a number of roles, including the Steward, a number of lords, and the Duke of Florence. Durán used only minor changes to suggest his new character  - either in his costume (a cap here, a bow-tie there) or in his mannerisms (for the Steward, he used a long drawn-out ‘Mmmmm’ to signal his change of identity). There was some potential for confusing the audience in this doubling, but the trick seemed to work splendidly, not least because it encouraged the audience to pay more attention to what might have been minor roles if each had been played by a different actor..

  10. These rapid changes by Durán were typical of the production as a whole. Scene changes and the passage of time were marked by the projections, giving the production a very fast pace, which befits a play with many short scenes. Other changes to the single set were effected by transforming it with props brought out of suitcases (and from one trunk permanently onstage) or from beneath the planks of the boarding. There was considerable doubling of roles that could have been a drawback, but was instead done intelligently. For example, Lafew and  the First Lord were played by the same actor in the court of France, and Lafew later fought with Bertram and was involved in the gulling of Parolles.

  11. The acting and the direction was for the most part first-rate. When Helena offered to cure the King in II.i, the threat that she might lose her own life was very real, and made her offer no trivial undertaking, At the end of that scene her preparation of potions took us into the territory of Macbeth's witches, another play in the OSF repertory this season. And, in a striking moment in the final scene, Diana's gesture of refusal at the King's offer of a dowry left us as uncertain about her marital future as we are about the fate of Isabella at the end of Measure for Measure. The harshness of the ending was reduced by having the relationship between Helena and Bertram begin in a somewhat unconventional fashion: Bertram was evidently flirting with her in the opening scene, giving Helena every reason to assume an interest on his part. In the final scene, in which the pregnant Helena enters to confront Bertram, he was represented as simply speechless, pausing for a moment before delivering his line asking for pardon: this is possibly the only way in which a production can leave any positive feelings for Bertram. My only reservation about the acting in All's Well was that, with the audience on three sides of the performance area, there was a danger that some lines might be lost; at times, I found the Countess (Dee Maaske) very hard to hear. I was also unconvinced that the King’s fistula would give him a cough.

  12. The text of All's Well was edited more drastically than had been the case with Much Ado, but in a manner that was sensitive to the development of plot and character: the bawdy interchange on virginity in the opening scene, for example, was pruned, but there was enough of the dialogue between Helena and Parolles to establish their respective characters and the purpose of the exchange. Some scenes were cut completely (II.ii, IV.iv and IV.v) and parts of other scenes were trimmed (for example, the beginnings of I.iii and III.ii). Almost all of these cuts were to exchanges between the Countess and the Clown, the only exception being IV.iv  which is a discussion between Helena, the Widow and Diane.

  13. Most adventurously, III.ii and III.iii (in which Helena returns to Rousillon and Bertram joins the Duke of Florence’s army) were intercut and played together, a feat possible only with the production’s flexible stagecraft: thus, Bertram and Helena seemed to be speaking to each other, although each was unaware of the other's presence on the stage. This was an ambitious idea which proved highly successful, and also created an appropriate moment at which to locate the interval.

  14. I had been wondering how the production would handle the Epilogue - perhaps omitting it entirely? - but I was unprepared for what actually happened. Projections had been used throughout the production to signal changes of scene and time, and this was carried through to include a filmed Epilogue, showing the child of Bertram and Helena growing from a babe in arms to a youth, perhaps a youth bearing a resemblance to the Fool. Meanwhile the Fool himself spoke the final words of the production, which came from Shakespeare, but not from this play: the final lines were those of Sonnet 17. The poem was spoken in full, and its references to 'Time to come' and 'some child of yours' were especially poignant as we saw the child and the time to come.


  15.  These were two very different productions in very different theatres, but together they demonstrated the strength of the staging of the comedies at OSF. Much Ado was the more straightforward production, with fewer adjustments to the text, whereas All's Well was an altogether bolder enterprise, in terms of its approach to the text and its use of the actors. At a time when many companies are struggling to attract audiences, it is heartening to see such good work being done in such full theatres.

Work Cited


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© 2011-, Annaliese Connolly and Matthew Steggle (Editors, EMLS).