Call me not fool ‘til heaven hath sent me fortune. Well you be fool if Chesapeake Shakespeare Company be heaven for they have sent you the great fortune of their production of As You Like It. Embrace the foolery, enjoy the merriment and festivities, and accompany this spectacular company to its outdoor summer home at the Patapsco Female Institute Historic Park for a rousing good comic romp. Directed by Patrick Kilpatrick, this quotidian of love and humors is right up every theatergoer’s alley this summer.
Working in the ruins as CSC has done for years always creates a delightful outdoor atmosphere of the Bard in his original intended format— theatre open to the elements with music, food, festivities, and audience involvement. Scenic Designer Daniel O’Brien has built a play-space against a right-angled corner of the ruins that has a slightly titled raking to it; an homage to traditional Shakespearean stages. The ruins themselves add to the grandeur of the production, with high stone walls for leaping up and over, as well as a woodsy outdoors feeling encompassing the production, which takes place primarily in the forest.
Costume Designer Kelsey Hunt creates the hallmark of a CSC theme for the production; this time around the inspiration takes form in the style of gypsy attire. Hunt’s costumes— particularly for those denizens of The Forest of Arden— are an array of bold complimentary colors. Orange, purples, greens, and blacks mingle in layered skirts for the true gypsy look, while other costumes are more rigid, lending their inspiration to the 1890’s high fashion, albeit in constant mourner’s black. Phebe’s costume is the epitome of a gypsy girl on the run so much so that you can hear her approach before she is seen on the stage.
The fighting in the production, created by Fight Choreographer Christopher Niebling, is crisp and creates an authentic look— particularly during the wrestling scene between Charles and Orlando. It’s the music that inspires everyone to a mellow state of being; relaxing and enjoying the two hours traffic upon the stage. Amiens (Shea-Mikal Green) gives a vibrant rendition of “Blow, Blow Thou Winter Wind” and “Under the Greenwood Tree” (both original compositions by Daniel O’Brien) during the production. The really engaging vocal talent to spot is Kate Forton, credited only as an ensemble member. Every time a character with a love interest lays eyes on another potential love interest Forton leads the band out from under the bridge and sings a momentary ‘struck by love at first sight’ little ditty. Her willingness to play with the characters in scene is hilarious, resulting in a great deal of banter between her and some of the young lovers.
There is a casual modern air about the textual delivery on the whole from the company of the performance that makes Shakespeare’s unique language truly relatable to every ear in the audience. Serving as the show’s text coach, CSC company member Teresa Castracane, finds the emotional nuances of the words buried deep in the Bard’s text and coaxes them to the surface so that everyone speaks with clear emotional intention. There are even a few little modern nods in the performance, the most hilarious one that comes to mind being when Touchstone and Audrey make a break for it and he shouts “Cheese it, Audrey!” Because of the show’s emotional clarity, the acting is exceptional on the whole throughout the cast— reinvigorating life into this Shakespearean classic one comic line at a time.
Very few characters in this production do not have some sort of lovers entanglement with others. Gregory Burgess who plays both the vicious Duke Frederick and his kindly brother Duke Senior, and Jacques (Jenny Leopold) are two such characters, at least until the end of the production draws near. Leopold’s character is doused liberally in melancholy, though her biting exchanges with Orlando create quite the moment of merriment between them. Burgess, whose primary role is that of the mellow man in the woods as Duke Senior, is a fun-loving and fancy-free fellow who simply exists as his character is wont to do. Their exchanges, though often defined through Leopold’s avoidance of Burgess’ character, are equally amusing and add levity to these romantic situations that pop up throughout the performance.
It’s the ingénues who are overwhelmingly bubbly and bound with the twitterpation of love. And practically every couple qualifies as an ingénue couple in this show. Silvius (James Jager) is moonstruck over Phebe (Teresa Spencer) who loves Ganymede (which is really just Rosalind in drag) who calls himself Rosalind (Blythe Coons) but only when Orlando (Vince Eisenson) is around to hear it. If you haven’t gotten lost there’s a good chance that this will become a hysterical comedy for you to enjoy. Throw in Celia (Lizzi Albert) and Corin (Jeff Keogh) who pines for her, and then Oliver (Matthew Ancarrow) who gets hit with a case of love at first sight for Celia and you’ve got a Shakespearean rom-com.
Ancarrow, as the late-arriving Oliver, has but a cameo in this production but plays it splendidly. When his eyes lay sight upon Celia, they all put fall from his head as he swoons over her. Albert, as the slightly less smitten cousin of Rosalind, delivers great facial responses, particularly once she, Touchstone (Keegan Cassady) and her cousin flee the lands of her cruel father, the Duke Frederick. It’s Albert’s gentle nature and humorous responses that make her character more than just a traveling companion to her cousin and her jester.
Cassady, as the witless wonder and wandering fool, has true moments of scene-stealing brilliance, though they occur mostly in the second act. Carrying all of the ladies’ valises with Celia on his back as they make their escape into Arden Forest becomes quite the comic endeavor, however. It is his interactions with Audrey (Sarah Taurchini) that become an epic showdown of uproarious laughter. When Taurchini and Cassady start their “speech to charades” segments, both when fooling William and again at the end during the pre-wedding scene, a maniacal outburst of over-the-top shenanigans ensues with Taurchini getting spastically physical in her gestures to match Cassady’s vocal outbursts. A brilliant comic pair, this duo keeps the balance of silliness afloat amid all the thick syrupy love that’s happening.
Teresa Spencer, as the hot-blooded, short-tempered Phebe, does her best to disengage James Jager, the doting and dimwitted Silvius, from his pursuit of her. The pair plays exceptionally well together, proving that chemistry need not be gushy and romantic to make a scene upon the stage. Jager, who doubles as the brutish thuggish wrestler, Charles, gives dynamic and rich portrayals in both roles, though his mindless eager approach to wooing Phebe is the far more entertaining of the two. His tireless efforts of attempting to win her over are as enduring as the day is long; a true mark of stamina in his character portrayal.
Vince Eisenson, as the lovestruck fool Orlando, and Blythe Coons, as the equally stricken Rosalind, are a Shakespearean match made in heaven. Or a heavenly match made in hell depending upon how you view the situation. Eisenson’s character becomes a wordless fool in the presence of Coons’ Rosalind upon first encountering her; the pair being mostly awkward and terribly flirtatious at their initial meeting. As the show progresses so does Eisenson’s outward displays of affection, primarily in vocal outbursts, toward the dear, sweet Rosalind. Coons, who spends the better part of the production parading around cross-dressed and disguised as the youthful boy Ganymede, does an exceptional job of playing out scenes with Eisenson in this fashion. Her quick recovery for every time she nearly blows her cover is hilarious. Eisenson’s pining over her proves even more so. Two articulated, emotionally expressive performers making this one incredibly funny and endearing performance.
Be sure to arrive early to enjoy the musical entertainment provided by members of the performance. It’s a true theatrical experience that should be seen this summer.
Running Time: 2 hours and 30 minutes, with one intermission.
As You Like It plays through July 20, 2014 at Chesapeake Shakespeare Company performing at The Patapsco Female Institute Historic Park— 3655 Church Road in Ellicott City, MD. For tickets call the box office at (410) 331-8661, or purchase them online.