Better late than never, my husband and I made the trek up to the Redwood Glen on Tuesday night to catch a Shakespeare Santa Cruz play in its last week of production. Mainly because it was Community Night and tickets were cheaper, we decided to see All’s Well That Ends Well. Neither of us had seen this play before, nor were we familiar with the storyline.

Now, I always enjoy the SSC experience, especially because this year I took the time to do it right — packed a picnic dinner, brought a bottle of wine, etc. But this time, I have to admit that I wasn’t crazy about the play. Perhaps I was just too tired to follow the intricacies of the plot and dialog (sleep had still proved a fickle friend the night before), but it made even less sense to me than Shakespeare usually does. I was left saying “Huh?” at the end, not least because I apparently missed a crucial plot development early on in the play. Whoops.

Regardless of my comprehension level, what really left a bad taste in my mouth was this play’s portrayal of love. In all of his other romantic plays (that I’ve seen, which is admittedly a limited number), Shakespeare gives you a highly romanticized but exciting, passionate, thoroughly mad kind of love. Whether it involves people dying for love or just looking like a total idiot for it, even if they’re in love with the wrong people, there is always something deeply moving about his portrayals of love. Isn’t that why his plays have lasted for so long?

But the love I saw in All’s Well left a bad taste in my mouth. First of all, the heroine basically entraps the man she loves into marrying her. He refuses, is forced to marry her by the king, then runs off to war to escape his newfound ball and chain. I kept expecting the “hero” (if you can call him that) to come to his senses, fall madly in love with his wife and return to her side, only to find her in the arms of another man… but there was none of that. Instead, she re-entraps him into staying with her by fulfilling the spiteful and intentionally near-impossible conditions set forth in the note he left when he abandoned her. Up until that point, she had had my pity. But why the hell would she want someone who had treated her like that, especially if she had to deceive him into accepting their marriage?

Happily ever after? Not so much. More like mediocrity ever after. This play had no grand passionate love worth killing and dying for, no rending of clothes, no gnashing of teeth. There weren’t even any women disguised as men, or fairies, or donkeys. There was only selfish love, callous lust, and in the end, a miserable marriage. What’s comedic about that? I definitely wasn’t laughing.

Perhaps we should’ve seen Romeo and Juliet instead — at least there’s love worth dying for in that play.

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