The cast of “All’s Well that Ends Well,” a play written by William Shakespeare in 1603, will take to the stage Saturday to perform the story of witchery, love, war and power at the Folger Theatre.
The play, labeled a dark comedy, was the last title standing after both the director, Richard Clifford, and the producer, Janet Alexander Griffin, whittled down their original list of 10 performances to open the 2003-04 season at the Folger. Working on the production since last June, both Clifford and Griffin are looking forward to opening night.
“This play took my fancy because of its complexity,” Clifford said. “It’s a very modern play, which appealed to us.”
Set in 19th-century England, the play follows Helena, a physician’s daughter in love with the unattainable Bertram, the count of Rossillion. A determined woman, Helena faces nearly impossible challenges as she schemes to marry her beloved while the audience awaits the results of her trickery.
This complex story, which has never before been performed at the Folger’s 250-seat theater, is rich with contemporary themes, Clifford says.
“The audience acts as a jury, deciding whether Helena is right in her deceit and Bertram in his treatment,” he said.
Leaving more than 300 lines of the original text on the cutting room floor, Clifford worked with the script to create a courtroom atmosphere within the theater that includes the audience.
Griffin, who has been with the Folger since 1977, said hiring a director for the season’s first performance was simple. Because Clifford, who is from London, has worked with the Folger before both on and off stage, and has experience producing, Griffin said it was a matter of making a single phone call. When it came time to casting, however, she said the two ran into more difficulty.
“The challenge was in doing a period piece,” Griffin said. “We often do modern takes so the audience can relate to the show.”
Since Clifford wanted to keep the play traditional, using authentic accents and language from the period, Griffin knew the two had to cast actors able to deliver a 19th-century performance to a 21st-century audience. Among those who made the cut were Holly Twyford, a seasoned Shakespearian actress whose performance as Helena marks her sixth time gracing the Folger’s stage.
As artistic producer at the Folger, Griffin wanted to be sure this season was well rounded, selecting plays that were comedic, tragic and even educational. Despite the humorous second half of “All’s Well that Ends Well,” Griffin said the play fulfills the serious element of the season. The three-play season is followed by “Melissa Arctic,” a romantic story to be performed in late January 2004, and “The Comedy of Errors,” a humorous piece, which will be on stage in mid-April.
“All’s Well that Ends Well” will run through Nov. 30. For tickets, call (202) 544-7077 or visit www.folger.edu.