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Love is merely a madness – ‘As You Like It’ Featured

July 20, 2021
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Love is merely a madness – ‘As You Like It’ (Photo courtesy Ten Bucks Theatre/Deanna Rice)

BREWER – One of the region’s most beloved summertime cultural traditions is back in action in Brewer. Or should I say – the Forest of Arden.

Ten Bucks Theatre Company is presenting its annual Shakespeare Under the Stars production. This year’s offering is the pastoral comedy “As You Like It.” The show runs July 22-25 at Brewer’s Indian Trail Park, followed by a final weekend – July 29-Aug. 1 – at Fort Knox in Prospect. All performances start at 6 p.m.; tickets are $15 and available at www.tenbuckstheatre.org.

It’s a story of palace intrigue, love, family ties and the many ways in which country life and court life differ – as well as a few in which they are very much the same.

A young man named Orlando (Blake Wright) has been forced out of his inheritance by the scheming of his eldest brother Oliver (Natalie Lisnet). With little other choice, he ventures out into the world in hopes of finding a way to make his own fortune.

Meanwhile, Duke Frederick (Owen Sinclair) has seized power, forcing his older brother Duke Senior (Blane Shaw) into exile in the forest. Duke Senior’s daughter Rosalind (Jenn Guare) remains at court only because she is the best friend of Frederick’s daughter Celia (Holly Schreiber). Following a wrestling match where young Orlando defeats the legendary palace grappler Charles (Ron Lisnet), he meets – and is immediately enamored of – Rosalind.

Subsequent circumstances see Frederick banishing Rosalind. Rather than abandon her friend, Celia opts to flee with her, dragging along court fool Touchstone (Nick Iammatteo) as well. The two women decide to disguise themselves for safety, taking on male identities – Rosalind is now Ganymede, Celia is now Aliena – as they make their way into the woods in search of Rosalind’s father.

Orlando, his aged servant Adam (Fred Stocking) in tow, is also in the woods when he comes upon the exiled Duke Senior and his ever-growing band of supporters. Chief among them is Jacques (Nathan Roach), a far more melancholic and philosophic type than his fellows.

The paths of Orlando and Ganymede cross. Rosalind, who is moved by the affection Orlando has expressed for her, offers to coach Orlando in wooing the woman he loves. To wit, if Orlando will pretend that Ganymede is Rosalind – and romances as such – Ganymede will be able to confer the proper wooing wisdom necessary.

There are a lot more love stories that unfold throughout – folks from both court and the country finding their way to true love, though not without a few stumbles along the way. All the while, Duke Senior seeks to be restored to his proper place, though just how that will be accomplished is a bit of a mystery.

That’s right, folks – “As You Like It” is jam-packed with plenty of the Bard’s greatest comedic hits. You’ve got some cross-dressing and mistaken identity. You’ve got regular romances, sure, but also ones that begin in oddly convoluted circumstances. You’ve got not one, but two usurping brothers. There’s a fool who might be the smartest guy in the room (though while Touchstone is named the fool, one could argue that Jacques fits a lot of those criteria as well). There are a couple of deus ex machina late turns and a fourth wall-breaking epilogue.

Shakespeare!

The joy of watching a production such as this one springs in no small part from the joy inherent to those who have produced it. This is a lovely roller coaster ride, with plenty of jokes to go with a sad moment or two – everyone involved clearly loved what they were doing.

This show was mounted with an eye to simplicity – the set was a few standing poles and some hay bales, though the actors often took advantage of the pastoral setting provided by the park. There’s a risk to that – without production values, there’s nowhere to hide – but the ensemble embraced that challenge, using their own vocal and physical energy to fill a space that isn’t so easy to fill.

(It should be noted that due to assorted complications, this show had not one, not two, but three different directors at various points. Kudos to Amy Roeder, Julie Arnold Lisnet and Aimee Gerow, who somehow managed to produce a streamlined and coherent vision of a complex show despite having so many cooks spend time in the kitchen. It’s indicative of the collaborative respect that has always marked Ten Bucks as a group, though rarely is it put to this thorough a test.)

As always, the success of a show such as this one relies heavily on the cast, and Ten Bucks has assembled a solid one here. Wright cuts a dashing figure as Orlando, displaying nimbleness both physical and emotional as he paints the picture of the earnest young lover. He's got a spring in his step and a charm to his presence. Guare meets that energy as Rosalind, lending the character a winking playfulness that suits her nicely while also holding forth with the willful wit that drives her. Their interactions are among the most charming of the show's many highlights. Schreiber’s Celia makes for a trusty sidekick, evoking a broadly comic brittleness. In Iammatteo’s hands, Touchstone’s is an often quiet wit, but no less effective because of it. Too many try to go too big with Shakespeare’s fools, but while we do get some bombast, the less is more approach is a good one for him.

Roach endows Jacques with a whinging gentility that offers an interesting look at the character’s notoriously solipsistic melancholy and self-consciousness. Natalie Lisnet mines depth and honesty from a somewhat thankless role that sometimes gets lost in the shuffle. Sinclair is appropriately self-centered as Frederick, even as he handles other roles. Shaw plays Duke Senior with a tossed-off imperiousness, while Ron Lisnet shines as Charles in the delightfully slapstick wrestling match against Orlando.

And of course, they’re not alone. Fred Stocking, Andrew Barrett, Dave Barrett, Callaghan Carter, Holly Costar, Deanna Rice and Jesse Speed come together to breathe life into the various and sundry oddballs and outcasts that populate these woods. Each of them create distinct individuals, even as many are tasked with multiple parts. The ensemble doesn’t always get the glory, but no show could shine if they fail to meet the task at hand.

Different people have different takes on “As You Like It.” Some consider it a relatively minor Shakespeare piece. Others rank it among his very best comedies. Still others find it to be an odd outlier against the rest of the Bard’s oeuvre. Regardless of your thoughts on the play, there’s little question that Ten Bucks Theatre has assembled a passionate and energetic group to bring their production to fruition.

I think you’ll like “As You Like It” – I certainly did.

“All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players” – Jacques (Act II, Scene VII)

Last modified on Tuesday, 20 July 2021 09:28

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