Review “All’s Well That Ends Well” (Chicago Shakespeare Theater): Imagining the Unfamiliar

Chicago Shakespeare Theater presents ALL’S WELL THAT ENDS WELL.

It’s believed Shakespeare penned this tale in 1603 around the time of Queen Elizabeth’s death and during a plague that killed one-in-five Londoners. It is one of 18 plays printed seven years after the Bard’s own death. The first record of it being performed is in 1741. ALL’S WELL THAT ENDS WELL is a lesser known work than Shakes’ more popular comedies. These nuggets from the program support the play’s complexity. Although the title sounds familiar, the story really is not.

The play starts with the deaths of two fathers, Count Rossillion and his physician. The Count’s son, Bertram (played by Dante Jemmott) decides to leave home for Paris. The physician’s daughter, Helen (played by Alejandra Escalante) is devastated by his departure. She ends up confessing her love of Bertram to his mother (played by the magnetic Ora Jones) before following him to Paris. When Helen saves the life of the King (played by the steadfast Francis Guinan), she is rewarded with the suitor of her choice. She chooses Bertram. He rejects her. 

This is the basic gist of the first Act. Pile on a lot more characters add in a war, you begin to understand why this is referred to as a ‘problem play’ and could be considered confusing. Enter Director Shana Cooper!

Cooper orchestrates this challenging play with zest. The set-up of the story is complicated and fairly lengthy. In the beginning, the Countess announces she is now Helen’s mother. Helen protests that she can’t be her mom because Bertram can’t be her brother. Yet, Bertram is the Countess’ son and also the ward of the king. … Wait! What? The dialogue adds to the confusion. Deciphering ‘who’s who’ becomes a perplexing soap opera-like puzzle.    

As the tangled plot evolves, Cooper punctuates the action with plenty of personality. She peppers the first act exploiting the buffoonery of Mark Bedard (Parolles) and Elizabeth Ledo (Lavatch). A grandiose Parolles and cheeky Ledo are comedy relief within all the death and relational woes. At one point, Ledo even engages with Jones in a lively and clever word play. 

Cooper also provides a delightful surprise in her soldiers’ dynamic entrances, exits and marching. Cooper enlisted Stephanie Martinez for movement design and choreography. Martinez has the troops levitating above the stage. They kick their feet and pound their chests with rhythmic perfection. It is full-on bad ass! 

Although these playful add-ons support the longer first act, we still go into the intermission perplexed. A spurned virgin is chasing the man that rejected her. He, in turn, is running from her in pursuit of a good time. Not exactly the tale we expect from the hopelessly romantic William Shakespeare.                

Act 2 turns this world upside down. Literally, Scenic Designer Andrew Boyce has this amazing grassy knoll hanging from the rafters. And the coquettish trio of Christiana Clark,Emma Ladji, and Tanya Thai McBride glide onstage to set the tone for the second half. It is very clear, especially with the fierce Clark, women are now in charge. The plucky threesome join forces with Escalante to get her husband back. 

In the second act, Cooper finds the fun in the storytelling ensuring all’s well WILL end well. There are still overly elaborate scenarios like a ring ruse that confounds more than intrigues. Yet, there is also an extraneous interrogation that becomes a hilarious vehicle for the soldiers to showcase their comedy chops. Instead of being bogged down in the story, Cooper continually energizes the tale with bursts of levity. 

ALL’S WELL THAT ENDS WELL is a rare opportunity to see a rare Shakespearean work-in-progress through the imagination of Director Shana Cooper.   


Running Time: Two hours and forty-five minutes with one intermission

Chicago Shakespeare Theater at Navy Pier

Written by William Shakespeare

Directed by Shana Cooper

Wednesdays, Thursdays, Fridays at 7:30pm 

Saturdays at 3pm and 8pm

Sundays at 2pm

Limited matinees available on Wednesdays at 1pm 

Additional matinees May 5 at 10:30am, May 12, June 1 & 2 at 1:30pm

Thru May 29th

For more information or tickets

Production photos by Liz Lauren

For more Chicago theatre information and reviews, please visit Theatre in Chicago

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