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Freshman Jordan Nied as Prolles bows to senior Glynis Gilio as Helena. Matthew Kendrick | Col­legian

Director of Theater George Angell’s last play on a Hillsdale stage has chal­lenged him with a green cast — mostly freshmen — and an unwieldy Shake­speare script. But his young actors have responded with only one thing: excitement.

The Tower Players opened Shakespeare’s “All’s Well That Ends Well” Wednesday evening, and per­for­mances con­tinue Thursday through Sat­urday at 8 p.m., with an addi­tional Sat­urday per­for­mance at 2 p.m.

After 33 years at Hillsdale College, Angell is directing his last show on the Markel Audi­torium stage. He said he chose the play pri­marily because of its title but also because he wanted to under­stand it more fully, as it is one of Shakespeare’s winding problem plays. 

“My pre­vious encounter directing the play back in 1989 left me feeling that there was more in the script to wrestle with than I had pre­vi­ously been able to pin down,” Angell wrote in the Director’s Note. 

Angell decided to update the play for a modern audience by setting it in France during the 1960’s at the height of the Algerian War of Inde­pen­dence. The action is split between France and Africa, and remixes of the top hits from ’60s France play between scenes as the setting invites the audience to step back into the not-too-distant past.

“A lot of this play is about the hand-off from the older gen­er­ation to the younger gen­er­ation, at least from the King’s point of view. He is on his way out and he knows it,” said senior James Young, who plays the ailing King of France. “George picked it because of that reason. He is passing the mantle off to someone else too.”

“All’s Well That End’s Well” is one of Shakespeare’s less popular plays. Though it was pub­lished in the First Folio of 1623, the first recorded per­for­mance was in 1741.

The play centers on Helena (senior Glynis Gilio), the daughter of a physician who wants to marry Bertram (freshman Johannes Olson), the Count of Rous­sillon. Bertram rejects her advances and flees to fight in the war where he meets an Algerian woman named Diana and falls in love with her. Through scheming and trickery, however, Helena decides her own fate and, in the end, she marries Bertram.

Though the play is long, it has several plot reversals, sexual intrigue, and comedic scenes that pull the audience through a grand story. It is Shake­speare using all of his best plot devices: sex, love tri­angles, uncon­sum­mated mar­riages, and kid­napping.

Shake­speare also shocks audi­ences by giving a female char­acter the tra­di­tional chivalric role.

Gilio flour­ishes in the role of Helena as she turns strict blank verse into con­ver­sa­tional and com­pre­hen­sible dia­logue. And like a true Italian actor, she explains the often-enig­matic Shake­spearian verse through her expressive face and hands with both coyness and fragility. 

“Helena is really psy­cho­logical,” Gilio said. “It is really fun for an actor to work in all the dif­ferent levels that Shake­speare offers.”

Gilio’s imposing presence and her ability to convey a breadth of emo­tions makes her the perfect actress to portray such a pow­erful leading lady. 

Though veteran actors lead the cast, more than half of the cast con­sists of freshmen new to the Tower Players. 

“This time there has been a lot of emphasis on teaching because there are mostly freshmen and sopho­mores in the cast. George has spent a lot of time working on that process,” Young said.

Junior Amber Crump, in her first per­for­mance with the Tower Players, shines as Diana through her viva­cious acting, clear dictive voice, and expressive eye­brows. She sets the tone for the second act in a scene with Helena and the Algerian women that brimmed with energy and movement. 

Freshman Jake McKie is another bright point as Lavatch, the pot-bellied fool. Though McKie is a young actor, Bryan Simmons’ cos­tuming ages him con­sid­erably and helped him clown around with great comedic timing and physical humor.

New actors like Crump and McKie show that a young cast has its advan­tages. 

“One of the nice things about being with a lot of freshmen is that there is still that youthful enthu­siasm for theater,” Young said.

Guest artist and member of the Actor’s Equity Asso­ci­ation Jen­nifer Weil keeps a spark in the show through her por­trayal of the Duchess. By main­taining attentive eyes and pro­jecting her voice in a way only a sea­soned per­former could, she sets an example that young actors should emulate. She conveys the moral devel­opment of the Duchess with grace and poise through clear actions and emo­tions.

The pro­fes­sional lead­ership of Angell and Weil and the influence of Tower Player vet­erans like Gilio and Young help the young actors like Olson and Crump perform with a con­fi­dence well beyond their expe­rience.

Though the com­pli­cated plot spins to a wild close, in the end, all is well: Bertram becomes the gen­tleman that France needs, and the mantle can be passed on to him with the crafty Helena bearing his son, the heir to France.

The King’s words snap the play to a fitting close: “All yet seems well; and if it end so meet, / The bitter past, more welcome is the sweet.”