Vibrant Indian dance and culture bring new life to All's Well That Ends Well at Bard on the Beach

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All’s Well That Ends Well | Bard on the Beach | Howard Family Stage in the Douglas Family Theatre, Vanier Park | June 26 – August 11, 2019

Set amidst the tumultuous end of British occupation in India, in this adaptation Helena (Sarena Parmar) is a wealthy Hindu woman secretly in love with Bertram (Edmund Stapleton), a British officer. The only problem is he doesn’t feel the same way. The historical backdrop, infusion of Indian dress, dance, and culture, and superb performances by the whole cast make this a hit of the summer.

As the play opens, the British Prime Minister talks about “the Indian problem” on an old radio. Bertram goes off to war and is given some familiar advice: “Love all, trust few, do wrong unto none.” Helena speaks with Bertram’s mother (Lucia Frangione) who has been taking care of her since her father, a renowned doctor, passed away.

The viceroy (Bernard Cuffling) is very ill and makes a deal with Helena, who claims she can cure him. He says is her medicine works, she can have any husband she likes. It works, and Helena selects from a lineup of bachelors, including three audience members. When she chooses Bertram, he insults her: “A poor physician’s daughter? I cannot love her.”  He is forced to marry her but swears to never “bed her.” He tells Helena that if she becomes pregnant with his child, then he will accept her as his wife. Thus begins Helena’s impossible mission.

Parmar is captivating as Helena, and Cuffling shines as the irritable viceroy. Stapleton is a strong Bertram and we feel little sympathy for him as he acts to terribly towards Helena. Another standout is Parolles, Bertram’s mischievous friend played by Jeff Gladstone. His monologue about virginity, paired with Helena’s quick rebuttals was one of the best scenes.

The political backdrop of pre-independence India, with flags, chants, and posters reading “Go home British,” adds to the tensions of the play and works very well. There are a few scenes with dialogue in Hindi, but this doesn’t distract at all from understanding the plot and, most of the time, the gist of what the characters were saying was obvious based on tone and body language.  

Helena decides to find Bertram where he has gone to fight, and she plots to have a widow’s daughter lure him to bed before they switch places and she can accomplish her mission. The one thing that this play didn’t try to address is why Helena would want to undertake this mission and why she still loves Bertram after the way he acts. It’s clear he doesn’t deserve her, but she still chases after him. I suppose all’s well that ends well.

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