“All’s Well” with Martha’s Vineyard’s Shakespeare for the Masses

From left: Molly Purves, Jamie Alley, and Jill Macy at a previous Shakespeare for the Masses event. — Photo by Nicole Galland

They’re back. After a short hiatus, the team behind the popular play series Shakespeare for the Masses will roll out another of their crowd-pleasing productions this Friday and Saturday, March 9 and 10, at the Island’s newest venue, The Pit Stop in the Oak Bluffs Arts District.

“All’s Well that Ends Well” will be the second show in what has proven to be an abbreviated season for the four-year-old organization. Shakespeare for the Masses is dedicated to presenting condensed, narrator-enhanced versions of the works of The Bard in the form of staged readings. With The Vineyard Playhouse under construction, the company has had to find a temporary home for the off-season series, and the official launch last month of The Pit Stop – a multi-use entertainment space – came along at just the right time.

Founders, producers, and directors Nicole Galland and Chelsea McCarthy have a predilection to inject humor and commentary into the material and often add a contemporary spin on the classics, but they remain faithful to the language and stories of the originals. Their funny and clever productions, which have attracted a loyal following, are something that must be experienced to be fully appreciated.

Classed with Shakespeare’s “problem plays” (so-named because they cannot be neatly classified as tragedy or comedy), “All’s Well That Ends Well” has perplexed audiences, critics, and producers for years.

At the heart of the story is a one-sided love affair between a reluctant scoundrel of a husband and a hopelessly smitten and pathetically persistent wife. Many people find the plot line sexist and the ending convenient and unsatisfying. Considering the humiliating extremes that the heroine goes to to secure a happy ending, the title could appropriately be updated to “The End Justifies the Means”

This weekend’s performances mark Shakespeare for the Masses’ second stab at “All’s Well.” The group did the play in 2008 during their inaugural season, but they have reworked the script considerably for this encore performance. “It’s a completely different show,” Ms. McCarthy said. “Much shorter, much funnier, much cooler.

“I really like the problem plays because they’re such weird stories it gives me and Nicki a lot of room to play around with the humor of them.”

Added Ms. Galland, “The more issues we have with a play, the easier and more fun it is for us to mess around with it.” She notes that in the current version of “All’s Well” they have employed a device she refers to as a “dumb show” six or seven times. In order to condense some of the lengthier passages, Ms. Galland (as the narrator) will give a rundown of the events, while the actors pantomime the action in an exaggerated vaudevillian style.

Though they have a lot of fun with the rewrites, the two adaptors are both reverential of The Bard and well versed in Shakespeare’s canon.

“Shakespeare knows that we respect him enough to make fun of him,” Ms. Galland said. None of the dialogue is altered in the abbreviated productions, which is important to the two Shakespeare fans, since part of their mission is to introduce the beauty of Shakespeare’s language, while making the experience more palatable to the uninitiated. “Even if it’s completely reconfigured Shakespeare, it’s still Shakespeare,” Ms. McCarthy said.

Ms. McCarthy and Ms. Galland have spent the winter reworking their rewrites of a handful of the 20 plays that they have produced thus far for the series.

“We wanted to spend a lot of time working on our older scripts and getting our catalogue into better shape,” Ms. McCarthy said. “We’re really proud of our earlier work, but we know we can do better. Some just needed a brush up. Some, like “All’s Well that Ends Well” needed a massive overhaul.”

The Shakespeare for the Masses’ team hopes to bring their adaptations to a larger audience.

“We’re also trying to figure out how to allow the scripts to have a life beyond what we do in the winter,” Ms. Galland said. She also noted that, “Somebody’s coming down from Harvard to watch the process and help us figure out how we can market them to schools.”

Although this weekend’s performances will be presented at a satellite location, the production will, as always, be a Vineyard Playhouse production. The Playhouse originated the series and hosted all but two other shows.

“M.J. [Bruder Munafo, The Playhouse’s artistic director] is our biggest cheerleader and very supportive of it all,” Ms. McCarthy said. “We’re just thrilled to be with The Playhouse.”

Ms. McCarthy, Ms. Galland and company will face some new challenges at The Pit Stop, where there are no dressing rooms or backstage area, but they are accustomed to “flying by the seat of our pants,” as Ms. Galland puts it.

“I’m excited that the space exists and is open to groups like us,” said Ms. Galland. “I love the energy that’s going on around it all. It reminds us that there’s a real grassroots arts movement on the Island.”

“All’s Well That Ends Well,” by Shakespeare for the Masses, Friday and Saturday, March 9 and 10, 7 pm, The Pit Stop, Oak Bluffs. Free, donations will be divided equally between The Pit Stop and The Vineyard Playhouse.