Wednesday, October 05, 2005

As You Like It (Great Lakes Theatre Festival)

‘AS YOU LIKE IT’ delights at GLTF

When you go to see ‘AS YOU LIKE IT,’ now on stage at the Great Lakes Theatre Festival you would be well served to just forget it was written by William Shakespeare. Being open-minded will allow you to fully enjoy director Risa Brainin’s production without being upset that it doesn’t use Shakespearean traditional staging or stick with fidelity to the Bard’s language. Just accept Brainin’s creativity in molding a fine cast into a fun production.

‘AS YOU LIKE IT,’ written about 1598, is one of Shakespeare’s most-often produced romantic comedies. It was written just before he moved on to his major tragedies. It is not an original concept as it is based on Thomas Lodge's ‘ROSALYNDE.’

The play follows a pastoral tradition of writing in which a story involves exiles from the court going into the countryside. While in the rural area, they held singing contests and philosophically discussed the various merits of various lifestyles. Shakespeare used the same concept in ‘A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM.’ The singing aspect allows for a nuance not often seen in many other Shakespeare productions. In the GLTF production, to add to the traditional songs, original music was written by Brad Carroll. It is creatively slipped into the show with a do-op quintet with lead singer Scott Plate doing not only fine singing, but creating a delightful portrayal that harks back to the style of 30’s musical films.

The story begins with the ousting of the Duke, father of Rosalind, from the throne by his own brother. With some loyal servants, he hides in the Forest of Arden, while back in the court Rosalind falls in love with the orphan Orlando and is subsequently also expelled. Rosalind disguises herself as a man, a common Shakespearean device. (‘TWELFTH NIGHT’ for example has gender-bending antics.) She escapes the court and brings along her friend Celia and Touchstone, the court jester. As always in Shakespeare's comedies, following unmasking and resolution, the couples sort themselves out appropriately and all is well that ends well.

As is the case in other Shakespearean comedies, the audience must realize that the situations are not real and therefore, observe with a suspension of belief. For example, though we may want to question it on a reality level, in order for the play to work we have to believe that Duke Senior does not recognize his own daughter in disguise and accept that Rosalind’s masquerade as a man goes undetected until the play’s happy ending.

The GLTF’s production is just plain out-and-out fun. Brainin mixes costume, language, musical and staging styles. Though traditionalists may quack, the melange of styles works well. Scenic Designer Chris Pickart’s sets work well. Devon Painter has a great time blending sado-masochistic leather outfits with modern garb and sixteenth century clothing. Janiece Kelley-Kiteley’s choreography is extremely creative and well executed.

The performances are excellent. Julie Evan Smith as Rosalind, and Kathryn Cherasaro as Celia, are delightful. They play off each other well and create a charming pair of young court-mannered ladies. Jeff Cribbs is properly earnest and love struck as Orlando, though his slight physical build doesn’t translate well into his being able to grapple and beat the bulky Gilgamesh Taggett, the court wrestler. But, as with much of this show, it works if you suspend your logical beliefs. Chunky Paul Kiernan, as Orlando’s mean brother who turns nice guy, and Taggett (double cast as Orlando’s other brother) don’t physically look like they belong in the same family with the slender Cribbs, but, again, suspend belief and their acting carries them to acceptability.

Marc Moritz is delightful as Touchstone, the court clown. His black and white split down-the-middle costume adds to his nuanced performance. Nina Dominque is hysterical as his love interest who spends much of the play being carted around the stage in a wheelbarrow, with her legs symbolically spread apart.

Dougfred Miller almost steals the show as Jaques, the melancholy doomsayer who recites the “All of the world’s a stage...” soliloquy, one of the Bard’s most famous speeches. After his initial song, each time Scott Plate strikes the melodramatic pose that indicates he is about to sing, the audience howled with delight. Derdriu Ring (Phebe) and Nicholas Koesters as her suitor (Silvius) also are wonderful.

CAPSULE JUDGMENT: GLTF’s ‘AS YOU LIKE IT’ is a delightful production. Go with an open mind. Remember, this is not traditional Shakespeare, stay open to what it is and you’ll have a fine time.