Shakespeare’s “All’s Well that Ends Well,” is the tale of Helena, the clever daughter of a court physician, in love with the entirely-dubious-to-her-presence Bertram, son of a Countess. Helena finagles her way into a marriage with Bertram, who, being the romantic type, tells her he’d rather die than live with her and goes to war. They correspond in letters and Bertram more or less informs Helena it’s over unless she manages to pull off all sorts of unlikely stunts (like becoming the mother of his child). Helena, perhaps obsessively undaunted, sets up an elaborate deal with Diana, whom Bertram does like, by which Diana winds up in bed with him and then (in an act of remarkable sneakery) Diana and Helena switch places.
This summary, I share, in order to provide some context for the remarkable re-workings that Installation Artist Ima Fraud and Dramaturge Keith Galessing have developed in their latest vision of “All’s Well.”
The very talented Fraud and Galessing duo have received international acclaim for their previous projects which have included a recitation of “Ulysses” in Finnish by a man dressed as a telephone booth, a Shadow-Puppet show of Milton Friedman’s reinterpretation of ‘consumption function,’ and the Scottish Play, in which all roles were developed within a coven of rabid donkeys.
“All’s Well,” developed especially for Swarthmore’s campus, is unique among their productions in its exclusive use of Garden Gnomes for casting. Initially, Fraud acknowledges, “We wanted duckies. The little rubber kind. To float in the Crum… But the Gnomes, they are brilliant. So much power, so much agency, so much kitsch. They have been a joy to work with…. Also, they look a bit like Keith.”
Galessing refused to comment.
Also unusual in this production, is the way in which it, to borrow a phrase of Fraud’s, “attacks its origins.” The piece is intended, in a blatant return to the title, to never end at all. Instead, the gnomes will continually be resituated across Parrish Beach, reenacting various scenes from the play. In its adherence to the plot of “All’s Well That Ends Well,” Fraud triumphantly observes “All’s Wells” is totally disinterested in the Shakespearean text.
“Yes, yes, we have a Helena and a Bertram… but since they all have beards it’s sort of hard to tell which is which, you see. And besides, they are much too preoccupied to bother with the marital bickering. We were much more concerned with the war.” This ‘war’ that Fraud alludes to is intended to represent the historically accurate and entirely fictitious ‘Feuding of the Fjords’ in which Fraud has found a metaphor for our times.
Ultimately, the performance has the power to disturb and occasionally quell and furthermore means you need to be careful when crossing Parrish Beach not to trod on a miniature Scandinavian Fjordsman.