Shakespeare, to me is as daunting as trying a new food, scary at first, but then thrilling when you realize that what you have been missing all these years is indeed delicious. Thus was my experience with, As You Like It, known as one of Shakespeare’s most beloved works is now being performed at Baltimore Shakespeare Factory July 17th-August 14th.
Even though 500 years or so have gone between the original show and today, the Shakespeare Factory wants you to see the show as you would have had you lived back then. Sure there are port-a-potties and a few stage lights, but seeing Shakespeare in a wooded area, on a blanket with a glass of wine, is most likely how theater would have been viewed. What Baltimore Shakespeare Factory is attempting to have us experience (although I am sure that the noise of helicopters was not an issue in Shakespeare’s time, but horse carriages must have been) is interesting in and of itself. I am not a Shakespearean scholar, nor have I seen very much Shakespeare, neither do I profess to have understood it all. I am just a theater lover who adores seeing well-acted, well delivered performances and encouraging you to take in a great show. This is one of those moments. For all theater lovers must know that almost all contemporary shows have more than just a bit of Shakespeare.
The venue is pastoral with the only thing keeping us separated from the cast is 3 well placed sheet/curtains from which the off stage actors stay behind. I highly recommend a chair or blanket or both as it will certainly make your enjoyment greater if you are comfortable. A dab of bug spray behind each ear should suffice as there are citronella lanterns around the audience area for our benefit. The sound of singing crickets plays like background music. Trying to give you that 17th century feeling, musicians serenade us prior to the opening with random songs, different characters coming to entertain, some serious, some humorous. Shakespeare, brought to you in this verdant basin, there are few props, no furniture, but intrigue and satire galore.
I am just a theater lover who adores seeing well-acted, well delivered performances and encouraging you to take in a great show.
As You Like It combines a banished Duke and his child, the complicated world of friendship and loyalty, love at first sight, mistaken identity, women playing men, (in Shakespeare’s time this would have been men playing women playing men), the hospitality of strangers and then of course raw passion. As with theater of the 1600s some of the actors play multiple parts, and take care to change costumes to change characters.
We meet the brothers Oliver, played by Andrew Gelos, the heir to his father’s estate who appears to have angered his younger brother Orlando, played by the dashing Zach Bopst, by failing to obey their father’s instructions upon his death. We will learn more about Orlando as he falls at first sight madly in love with Rosalind played by the zesty and effusive actress Lynn Favin. Ms. Favin’s acting and stage humor are exemplary as it is mostly her story the audience follows mainly her plight throughout the show. Shannon Ziegler, playing Celia with a regal and clear tone encourages her more animated cousin, Rosalind to take charge of their destiny. They run away into the woods together dragging the court jester, Touchstone, played by the endearing Phil Vannoorbeeck, when Celia’s father, the evil Duke Frederick played by Kevin Griffin Moreno, banishes Rosalind threatening to separate these sister-like cousins.
Duke Senior, portrayed by David Forrer is the true heir, and is also Rosalind’s father. He was banished earlier by the evil Duke Frederick and lives in the forest missing his entitled life but still enjoying the riches of nature. You can take nobleman out of the castle but his manners shall remain; he still appears to be magnanimous to all and humble and keeps his sense of hospitality as he tries to build a good life for himself and his followers. He is tall and commanding and projects his booming clear voice in this great open air theater. Mitch Monin adeptly juggles costumes and accents as he plays 3 different characters: William, Jacques de Boys and Lord Page.
The cousins enter the forest with Rosalind disguised as a man to keep any predators away. Charlotte Blacklock playing misguided Phoebe falls in love with Rosalind thinking her a man. While Silvius, played by the handsome Tavon McLaughlin, pines for Phoebe. Oh what love triangles we hath, I mean have. Rosalind promises to marry Phoebe the very next day if she will have him/her, but really is attempting to kindle the relationship between a man and a woman stating that he (Rosalind in disguise) could love no woman. The audience is in on the joke as would have been audiences of years ago.
As the play progresses, the situations in which the characters find themselves are ridiculous and hilarious. Not to be missed is our sultry and slutty Audrey, played by the voluptuous and comical Jessica Lynne Byars, keeps the audience distracted as she attempts to seduce our fool Touchstone. In the end, everyone gets married to the correct partner, except Jacques who mocks everyone whenever possible. Meanwhile, Oliver wishing to kill his brother is attacked in the woods but saved by Orlando salvaging their strained relationship, evil Duke Frederick runs into a monk and gives up his possessions allowing the good Duke Senior to come back to civilization and take over his lands and home once more. We come to why a show is named. Shakespeare gives the audience what it wants, a lively show, with a happy ending, no one dies, everyone gets married, As You (the audience will) Like It.
Directed by Chris Cotterman, this lively and complicated show attempts to bring its 21st century audience into a low tech, unfettered world. The costume designer Stephanie Parks uses a combination of period clothing and contemporary to produce a modern adaptation.
Running Time: 2 hours with a 20 minute intermission with musical entertainment as you relax. Family friendly show.
As You Like It at Baltimore Shakespeare Factory at the Meadow at Johns Hopkins from July 17th to August 2nd and at the Great Hall at St Mary’s Community Center 3900 Roland Ave. in Baltimore August7-9th, at Boordy Vineyards, 12820 Long Green Pike, Hydes, Maryland 21082 July 31st and August 14th. For tickets and more information click here. In an all-female cast Baltimore Shakespeare Factory will perform Henry IV, July 31st thru August 23, 2015.