All's Well that Ends Well 7 Towers Theatre Written by William Shakespeare Directed by Christina Gutierrez Stage Management by Amanda Gass Scenic Design by Chris Hejl Costume Design by Stephanie Dunbar Lighting Design by Amy Lewis Dramaturgy by Joe Stephenson Photo Credits: Aaron Black
Although it’s categorized as one of Shakespeare’s comedies, All’s Well calls into question a number of the genre’s conventions. The unconventional relationship at the play’s center destabilizes the idea of fairytale love and “happily ever after” from its first moments. In addition, a major character undergoes a standard comedic journey of self-discovery, but only after a disturbingly violent and malicious prank that leads to his near-total destruction. All of this happens against the backdrop of a war which the younger characters embrace as an opportunity for glory, but in which they accomplish only deceit and trickery. The challenge of staging All’s Well is thus to create a world in which all of this darkness can not only exist, but where it can it can act as a catalyst for transformation. For 7 Towers, that world was the Europe of WWI--a world experiencing for the first time the horror of automated weapons, poison gas, and an unprecedented level of death and destruction. Still, nationalistic enthusiasm for “the war to end all wars” reigned supreme, especially early in the conflict. It was not uncommon to hear young men excited to fight where, as Shakespeare’s Bertram imagines, “noble fellows strike.” All’s Well is not an anti-war play. It is a story about realistically flawed characters making the best of an often cruel reality. For me, staging Shakespeare’s disturbing fairy tale amidst the world-altering circumstances of WWI is a reminder of how much war changes things--people, relationships, beliefs, and social standards. This production occurred in a standard theatre space--the Dougherty Arts Center in Austin, Texas, but was staged on the audience risers with the audience themselves sitting on the stage. This flip in space mirrored he changes in perspective that the play asks its audiences to make.