John Cullum Tames Runaway Groom in Central Park: Jeremy Gerard

John Cullum and Annie Parisse in "All's Well That Ends Well." in New York. Photographer: Joan Marcus/Public Theater via Bloomberg

Bertram, the caddish count who comes of age in “All’s Well That Ends Well,” is no more likable at the end of Shakespeare’s odd comedy than he was upon his first entrance. At least, not at the Delacorte Theater in Central Park.

Forced to wed a woman he feels is beneath him, he heads off to war rather than consummate the marriage. At the foreign front (he’s travelled from France to Italy), he woos a local girl in part by denouncing his heartbroken bride. Nice guy.

Bad behavior seems all too familiar in this new age of men not getting away with it. It’s probably harder than ever to make Bertram sympathetic by the time he accepts his fate.

Daniel Sullivan -- the fine director whose staging here last season of “The Merchant of Venice” with Al Pacino and Lily Rabe moved to Broadway -- is not so blessed this time. Bertram may be fickle and callow, but he needs charisma enough to lead men on the battlefield and seduce women off.

Andre Holland’s Bertram barely registers, beyond being sulky and unimpressive. It’s impossible to discern what the love-struck Helena sees in him.

Still, there are charms in this moody production, some of them endowed by nature, as befits the outdoor setting. The trees behind the stage are subtly lit (by Peter Kaczorowski), lending a spooky aura to the battlefield tents.

Tom Kitt’s authoritative incidental music does a lot of the actors’ work in establishing the play’s shifting moods.


And then there’s John Cullum, in yet another tour-de-force performance, as the infirm King of France. Helena, daughter of his recently deceased physician, revives him; her recompense is a husband of her choosing. That’s Bert.

I wish Annie Parisse’s too-understated Helena had a little less of the Italian widow and a little more of the French huntress about her. That Reg Rogers, as Bertram’s scoundrel sidekick Parolles, took a little more delight in his knavery. Or that Tonya Pinkins, one of our finest musical-theater actresses, assumed regality more easily as Bertram’s mother, the Countess of Rousillion.

But Cullum’s transformation from depressed, death-obsessed monarch to chipper survivor is a wonder to behold. He last appeared on this stage 49 seasons ago, and most recently played the Interlocutor in “The Scottsboro Boys.” He’s a treasure.

“All’s Well That Ends Well” runs through July 30 in repertory with “Measure for Measure” at the Delacorte Theater in Central Park (enter at E. 79th St. or W. 81st St.). Tickets are free. Information: +1-212-539-8650; Rating: **1/2

What the Stars Mean:
****        Excellent
***         Good
**          Average
*           Not So Good
(No stars)  Avoid

(Jeremy Gerard is an editor and critic for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)

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