‘As You Like It’ by Baltimore Shakespeare Factory

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Shakespeare’s comedy As You Like It is fun for the family.

The Meadow, just below the historic Evergreen House, is a lovely place to spend a late afternoon or early summer evening. Spread a blanket on the hillside – you can see the performance from just about anywhere on the meadow – and lookup at the blue sky. Or, as was the case last Sunday evening, hope that the looming rain cloud would hold out until final curtain (which it did, thankfully).

'As You Like It' performed on the Green. Photo courtesy of Baltimore Shakespeare Factory.

‘As You Like It’ Performs on the Green. Photo courtesy of Baltimore Shakespeare Factory.

It was, indeed, a perfect setting for an “authentic” rendition of As You Like It, directed by Chris Cotterman and performed by the Baltimore Shakespeare Factory (BSF). The first duty of a Shakespeare comedy is to amuse its audience; the second, to engage. This production certainly meets the criteria with its mix of humor, bawdiness, and interaction with the folks spread out on blankets, some sipping wine, and many cajoling with the cast who appeared quite comfortable close up.

A core philosophy of BSF is to re-create the conditions that an audience in Elizabethan England would have experienced. Shakespeare’s theaters weren’t wired for lighting or sound, so the natural voices and illumination in this production add to its genuineness. And like actors in Shakespeare’s time, the 14 players perform multiple roles, women often dressed as men, and others in random gender-bending costumes.

White sheets were draped over a makeshift stage with an opening in the curtain for the many entrances and exits in this tricky Shakespeare classic. A clearing in the woods provided ample space for a wrestling match, stage by Fight Director Tegan Williams. Picture the romantic hero Orlando (Zach Bopst) ripping off his shirt as he tries to disentangle himself from his foe, perhaps the buffoon Touchstone (Phil Vannoorbeeck), in this finely choreographed muddle. One can easily imagine this is what it was like back in the day of the Bard.

Charles the Wrestler in 'As You Like It.' Photo courtesy of Baltimore Shakespeare Factory.

Charles the Wrestler in ‘As You Like It.’ Photo courtesy of Baltimore Shakespeare Factory.

Shakespeare used live music in his plays, so naturally the pre-show and interludes carry on this tradition – a nice touch throughout. Costuming was also important to the theatre companies of Shakespeare’s day, and BSF brings to the stage a attire that audiences easily recognize from a different era, thanks to Designer Stephanie Parks, with assistance from Manager Kathy Vary.

Since most of the readers are familiar with the play – or at least know the famous line, “All The World’s A Stage,” – there’s little need for a plot recall. What should be noted are the exceptional actors/characters who wander about.

Rosalind (Lynn Favin, a SAG member and TV regular) romps about in both her feminine and masculine roles. She’s terrific as the vixen, especially when joined by cousin Celia (Shannon Ziegler) as her “second banana” in the comic skits. Soon the two set off to find Rosalind’s banished father, Senior (David Forrer, a newcomer to the group). One of the best moments takes place when the daughter disguises herself as a man and teaches her bungling suitor the art of wooing. Even the little ones in strollers giggled. Meanwhile, wearing a blue mask to cover his face, Tavon McLaughlin added to the festivities with his sinewy moves and old English parlance.

Running time:  2 hours and 20 minutes with one 15-minute Interlude.

The Baltimore Shakespeare Factory continues the Shakespeare in the Meadow Series with As You Like It at The Meadow near Johns Hopkins Evergreen Museum and Library – 4545 North Charles Street, in Baltimore, MD through this Sunday, Aug. 2, 2015.  Pre-show entertainment begins 30 minutes before curtain; performances at the Meadow are open for picnics one hour before the show. You can bring a blanket, chairs, and a picnic. The show is free; donations are accepted.

This production continues at St. Mary’s Community Center – 3900 Roland Avenue, in Baltimore, MD (410) 366-3106) Aug. 7th-9th. For exact times and weather changes, visit The Shakespeare Factory.

The BSF All Female Production of Henry IV Part One is scheduled at both locations, the Evergreen Museum and Library, Friday and Saturdays, at 8 p.m. and Sundays, 4 p.m. July 31-August 16, 2015, and St. Mary’s Community Center, same schedule, August 21-23, 2015.

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