Shakespeare's "All's Well That Ends Well" is usually thought of as a "problem play," an ambiguous comedy-drama that doesn't seem to offer clear answers. Others in that genre in the Shakespeare canon are "Measure for Measure" and "Troilus and Cressida."

Shakespeare's "All's Well That Ends Well" is usually thought of as a "problem play," an ambiguous comedy-drama that doesn't seem to offer clear answers. Others in that genre in the Shakespeare canon are "Measure for Measure" and "Troilus and Cressida."

The Oregon Shakespeare Festival's new production of the play will open at 2 p.m. Saturday, July 4, in the New Theatre. It will mark the first time director Amanda Dehnert has staged one of the problem plays.

"The challenge is to figure out what story you want to tell and go after it," Dehnert says. "There are a lot of different threads."

The play tells the story of commoner Helena, who loves aristocrat Bertram, who doesn't want her. He'd prefer to go off to war to have adventures and make a reputation. But the king, who happens to be Bertram's guardian, has other ideas.

Will Helena get her guy? Let's just say she comes up with quite a trick.

"I think it's an extraordinary love story," Dehnert says, "with two young people at the center, both on the cusp of a change. Each has a journey of discovery. They go down those roads."

Dehnert teaches at Northwestern University when she's not directing at regional theaters around the nation.

She has set the play in a fairy-tale world. The OSF's publicity materials depict Helena and Bertram in non-specific, fairy-tale costumes on a fantastical wedding cake formed of words from lines in the play.

It's up to scenic designer Christopher Acebo and costume designer Linda Roethke to make Dehnert's vision live, along with lighting designer Dawn Chiang and composer/sound designer Fabian Obispo.

Helena is played by Kjerstine Rose Anderson, with Danforth Comins as Bertram. John Tufts is Parolles, and Armando Durán is the Clown.

Dehnert has made the Clown into a narrator.

"I took the notion of the Clown and really expanded it. ... He plays multiple roles," she says.

The Clown is usually portrayed as a rather melancholy fellow who punctures the various hot-air balloons of the Court, more like the traditional role of a Fool.

Has Dehnert taken liberties with Shakespeare's script?

"I don't know if I'd go so far as to say it's an interpretation," she says, "but you have to pick a story and not do everything the way it's laid out."

She doesn't grant Helena a place in the pantheon of great Shakespearean women with Rosalind, Juliet, Viola and their like.

"They all have journeys into themselves as individuals," she says. "I don't see Helena as separate from her relationship with Bertram."

Most audiences, and many commentators, have found Bertram as unworthy of Helena's affections and all her trouble. Dehnert says Helena has problems of her own.

"The traditional reading of Helena is that she's amazing. I think she's a messed up young woman. If it's her story, she's an unreliable and frustrating protagonist."

In the end, Dehnert says, "All's Well" is more like real life than it is like a traditional comedy.

"You think about the mistakes we make," she says. "A lot of characters make a lot of mistakes. What we make of them is more important. Nobody's perfect.

"I think life happens to us in strange ways, and it's always what you make of it. If you can get to the ending with the feeling you've accomplished something, you've done pretty well."

"All's Well That Ends Well" will run until Nov. 1. Also playing at the New Theatre is "The Servant of Two Masters."

For ticket information, see osfashland.org or call 482-4331.