The world of Shakespeare may seem far removed from life in the Rim country, but Payson High School's production of "All's Well That Ends Well" opening Thursday night in the PHS auditorium, with a matinee performance Friday and a final performance Saturday evening is a play containing characters, plot elements and themes that are every bit as timely and relevant today as they were when first performed in the 16th century.
One of Shakespeare's lesser known plays, "All's Well" is a dark comedy about Helena, a woman of humble means who is, nonetheless, "the most virtuous gentlewoman that ever nature had praise for creating." Convinced that she can cure the ailing king of France using a rare prescription bequeathed by her father, Helena succeeds where the best doctors in all the land could not.
Her reward is to choose a husband from among the eligible bachelors of the king's court. Helena selects young Count Bertram, a charming lad who, unfortunately, turns out to be a lecher, a liar and a callow and insensitive aristocrat.
Upset about being forced to marry a commoner so far below his station in life, Bertram obeys his king and submits to the ceremony but then abandons Helena and hurries off to Italy with other young noblemen from the court to take part in a war not to fight on the side of right, but for whichever side is willing to pay them the most.
And the war is not really a war at all in the conventional sense, where the combatants are struggling for a noble cause such as freedom or human rights. It's more of a neighborhood dogfight, a petty skirmish over a property line.
If you've ever seen a Shakespearean comedy, you know that they are full of twists and turns and mistaken identities and elaborate schemes. Everything works out in the end, but the way it all unravels will keep you riveted to your seat. And like "Romeo and Juliet" and the rest of Shakespeare's works, "All's Well" is also remarkable for its timelessness. It's all about the discrepancy that so often exists between words and deeds, and about how fundamental values such as honor and integrity seemed to be a lot more important in a bygone era than they are today.
In fact, the title "All's Well That Ends Well" is not only a great postscript for the outcome of a war in which nothing much was ever at stake, but also an appropriate metaphor for a tale about a generation that seems to believe in all the wrong things.
PHS drama students Heather Schneider and Travis Sanders play Helena and Bertram respectively, with Megan Lower, Randy Perham, Daniel Jacobs and Ryan Fannizia in the other major roles.
Curtain time for the Thursday and Saturday performances is 7:30 p.m., with the Friday matinee beginning at 2 p.m. Admission is $3 for adults and $2 for students and seniors, and tickets can be purchased at the door.