All's Well That Ends Well

This raw and raunchy version of the Shakespeare classic is not for purists


Through Aug. 4

Tickets are $12-15


Theater Rhinoceros Studio, 2926 16th St. (at South Van Ness), S.F.

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William Shakespeare made sure his plays had enough intellectual meat for his learned audience members and enough fart gags for the groundlings. Director Val Hendrickson's Sex-Club Shakespeare definitely appeals to his audience's inner groundling, not to the erudite picnicker. This version of the classic is raw and raunchy, a dark dungeon of iniquity where acts bordering on porn take place behind two scrims. Hendrickson's adaptation accentuates every sexual reference and slashes the text. Sometimes this works against him, but the plot of All's Wellisn't very plausible anyway: Orphaned Helena (Jessica Frantzreb) saves the King (a comical Roberto Robinson) from his ailment with some potion left to her by her late father, so the King grants her any wish. Her choice is to marry Bertram (Karl Ramsey), the son of the Countess (Lorraine Olsen) who raised Helena. Bertram has a problem with marrying the girl he views as his sister, so he runs off to fight in a war and says he will stay with Helena if she manages to get knocked up by him, which she does (in a deliciously dirty bedroom scene). The production glosses over Bertram's realistic objection to the marriage in favor of rendering him as a bisexual; another character, Parolles (a complex John Flanagan), confuses the plot by sucking up to (or, by implication, sucking on) Bertram. Later, Parolles is tortured (with an ingenious device created by Francis J. McGuire) rather than teased (as indicated in the original text) into giving away the secrets of his comrades in war. By raising the stakes this way, Hendrickson suggests that Parolles is more righteous than he actually is. But these are small quibbles. The production aims to reveal our carnal nature, and it succeeds, presenting such scenes as a leather-clad Diana (the ultra-sexy Elizabeth Marie) doing a show-stopping dance to Nine Inch Nails' "I Wanna Fuck You." If you're no Shakespeare purist, put down your brie and take this naughty side trip.

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