In love, and in life, there are no truly happy endings. That’s what Shakespeare tells us in All’s Well That Ends Well, one of the late-plays he produced. The rarely performed show will debut at the Broad Street Ministry on Nov. 30, running though to Dec. 17. The Philadelphia Artists’ Collective will run an entire season of not-so-familiar Shakespeare fare, and All’s Well That Ends Well sets the stage for strong female leads displaying the ultimate power of women.
Speaking with Artistic Director Dan Hodge about the play, All’s Well That Ends Well is divergent from other Shakespeare plays. “It’s a great play in that it reads as an ensemble piece,” he said. “Everyone here carries a great deal of importance. There are four really strong roles for women. You’d only really have two, no more than three, for strong women [in a Shakespeare play].” Hodge also promised that there isn’t a bad part in it.
“All’s Well That Ends Well” addresses personal space, forgiveness and redemption, but it doesn’t tie up the narrative in a neat bow. The dark comedy is uncomfortable, and it doesn’t apologize for that. The play is considered to be one of Shakespeare’s problematic efforts, and Hodge said that this is one of the primary reasons he fell in love with it. “That makes it closer to real life,” he gushed. “We have an underestimated character who ‘saves the world.’ And the most dynamic character is a young woman.” The cast is a collection of broken hearts, shuddered spirits and oppression fighters with potent feminine touch.
The play’s heroine, Helena, can heal the ailing king of France away from death, but she struggles with making Bertram — the man she followed to Paris — fall in love with her. The bill warns of bittersweet comedy that nuzzles with melancholic laughter. “All’s Well That Ends Well” is not afraid to layer the stage with disconcerting, albeit close to home, themes.
“The bulk of the plays we do don’t often see the light of day,” Hodge said of the Philadelphia Artists’ Collective. “This one is a magical journey. It has perhaps his most complicated relationships between men and women in all of Shakespeare’s works. There’s this weird thread of misogyny and the ultimate power of women,” which he noted is a pressing conflict in our society today.
The play hopes to leave impact. “I always want the audience enriched,” Hodge claimed, “but with this play I want to challenge the audience to consider the relationships in their lives. Who are the important people in their lives and what do we owe those people?
Previews for “All’s Well” begin on Wednesday, Nov. 30, with opening night on Friday, Dec. 1. The show runs for a total of 13 performances through Saturday, Dec. 17. All shows are at 8 p.m. Tickets are on sale for $25 (or $15 with student identification or under 25) by calling 215-551-1543 or visiting philartistscollective.org.