In 2016, Delaware Shakespeare began a new program: the Community Tour. This program is a bold initiative, designed to “bring a professional theater production to underserved or non-traditional audiences in locations such as homeless shelters, detention facilities, and centers for individuals with cognitive or physical disabilities.” The program is inspired by a Minneapolis company, Ten Thousand Things, which has been working on a similar model for a quarter-century. The first Community Tour was a production of Shakespeare’s Pericles. This year’s is As You Like It, which will perform in thirteen different locations before doing a weekend run at OperaDelaware Studios in Wilmington (including a gala benefit on November 11). Most of the locations are in Delaware, but on November 3, Delaware Shakespeare came to Philadelphia for the first time, performing at Broad Street Ministries.
Madeleine Sayet directed the production with economy – most of the acting takes place in a small square surrounded by the audience – and the wit and charm this comedy needs. Set pieces, designed by David Meyer, head of the Sculpture Area at the University of Delaware, are minimal. A highlight of the design is the Forest of Arden. The “trees” resemble giant cookie cutters – elegant, whimsical, and evocative without spoiling sightlines, they also provide a marvelous sight gag in one scene. One very nice directorial touch is playing the later court scenes around the periphery of the audience, which adds to a sense of threat without losing the forest. The costumes, by Amanda Wolff, also work very well for delineating character (with the exception of the overalls and knit cap for Danielle Leneé’s “Ganymede,” which clashed with Leneé’s performance). The play calls for a lot of music – with the exception of Jaques, all Duke Senior’s men seem to do in the play is sing – and Joe Trainor provides lovely folkish melodies for Shakespeare’s lyrics.
The production uses a company of nine actors, which means a ton of doubling, which the cast generally pulls off with aplomb. Noteworthy performances are Trevor William Fayle (Orlando) and Leneé (Rosalind) as the charming young lovers, Bi Jean Ngo as Rosalind’s puckish sidekick Celia, and Liz Filios’s Jaques. Jeffrey Cousar breaks the audience’s heart as the hapless shepherd Silvius, and J Hernandez almost steals the show with his trio of roles as Duke Frederick, Duke Senior, and Corin: each character is completely distinct in vocal and physical energy. Delaware Shakespeare Artistic Director David Stradley has done yeoman work with the actors as the vocal/text coach for the production.
There is nothing groundbreaking in the play’s interpretation, but that isn’t the point here: its target audience is people who are unlikely to have seen any theater, let alone Shakespeare. (The Philadelphia performance is followed by one in a men’s prison.) This As You Like It is lively, and the story is clear and honestly told, with no condescension to its audience. The performance I saw had a plurality of Philadelphia theater folk in the audience, but the target audience, the Broad Street Ministry guests present, seemed to enjoy the event as much as anyone.
Running Time: Two hours and 10 minutes, with one intermission.
As You Like It plays through November 12, 2017 in multiple locations in Delaware and Pennsylvania. For a list of dates and times, and to purchase tickets to selected performances, visit Delaware Shakespeare online.