"A VERY LIKE-ABLE AS YOU LIKE IT"
Review from PlayShakespeare.com for Shake on the Lake's AS YOU LIKE IT, directed by Chad Bradford
by Diana Louise Carter
It’s hard to believe Shake on the Lake in tiny Perry, NY., is just eight years old.
The company, co-founded by Perry natives Josh Rice (producing artistic director) and Pilar McKay (managing director) has brought a handful of talented actors from across the country. They've parlayed arts grants into a moveable feast of Shakespeare that travels each July and August from the shores of Silver Lake to as many as eight counties.
This is Shakespeare in the best and most accessible of Shakespearean traditions—outdoor venues, minimal and easy-to-transport sets, actors playing multiple roles, and frequent interaction with the audience. While there are body mics and a sound system providing amplification, there are no lights, so shows begin at 6 p.m.generally and the scripts are modified so the plays can end before dusk. The formula has been successful enough to enlarge the cast to 11 this year and create some spinoffsSponsorships mean most of the performances are free this year, allowing fans to see the performances in multiple settings without having to buy multiple tickets.
This year’s production, directed by Associate Artistic Director Chad Bradford, is a delightful As You Like It, costumed in caftans and tiered skirts of the Summer of Love (designed by Nikki Grey). A half-hour of live music precedes the play, including a lively version of the Rolling Stones’ You Can’t Always Get What You Want setting the tone and era of the play perfectly.
In this production, the court is more in the imagination, while the rolling lawns of historic mansions or parks call to mind the wooded encampment of the Arden Forest, to which Rosalind and Celia will travel in disguise. The only scenery is a lace-curtained, wood-framed backdrop.
Before we get to Arden, though, the scheming Oliver sets up his brother Orlando to be maimed or killed by Charles the Wrestler, who has already dispatched earlier opponents. Fight scenes, starting with a pre-wrestling tussle between the brothers, are beautifully choreographed, with Oliver (Matthew Duncan) turning bright red when the unhappy and penniless Orlando (Ladarius Jamerson) puts him in a headlock. The actual wrestling scene looks like something out of the World Wrestling Federation with a scene stealing Charles (Rice) making the audience shriek in laughter at his antics. A few improvised lines—a crotch pummelling of Charles followed by Orlando quipping, “He can only speak in falsetto, Lord,” add to the humor without derailing the text.
Once Orlando and Rosalind have clapped eyes on each other, and Rosalind (Madeleine Dauer) has fled to the forest with cousin Celia (Sharon Combs), we meet Jaques, a courtier of the banished Duke Senior, Rosalind’s father. The melancholy fool (Malcom Tucker, when he’s not playing music) practices his meditation, while sitting with criss-crossed legs and arms outstretched and balanced on his knees, as one might find a 60s-era guru. This is a wry Jacques, who seems just as amused by his fellow forest dwellers as he is contemplative.
This production is particularly good at making each of the denizens of the forest distinct, appearing to be peopled by a cast of thousands. Buxom farm girl Audrey (played by Keith Harper) particularly stands out as a curvy wench who goes back and forth between demur and come-hither wriggles. Her, or should I say "his", wig fell off opening night as she chased, and was chased by, Touchstone. Grabbing the lost wig, Harper looked Touchstone (Duncan) in the eye, plopped the wig back on and ad-libbed “Love me for what I am!” with a wag of his head.
The character of Rosalind is often played with great bravado, almost like a female Peter Pan who insists on fixing everyone. Dauer’s performance is more nuanced, allowing the unsure, smitten young woman to peak out now again from her disguise as Ganymede the boy. Phebe, the vain, charmless woman who falls in love with Ganymede, was played with more confidence than usual by Jordan Tudor, who also doubled as a vocalist before and during the play. I would have a hard time believing she wasn’t the understudy for Rosalind, or that she won't play that role someday.
In a small and young company like this one, I presume the costume budget isn't large, but Grey and her assistants worked wonders. Particularly beautiful was the purple and glittery gold of the God of Love (one of several roles played by Margaret Gayford). Ganymede was a bit of dandy with bell-bottom trousers and a floral frock coat. Though all of the actors were skilled enough to double and triple as different characters without the help of costuming, their clothing changes gave early warning to a thankful audience.
Swapping roles between the nasty Duke Frederick and the mellow Duke Senior, Josh Marcks went from a Nazi motorcyclist look in black with silver metalic spikes to a simple white caftan with love beads. At one point, Matthew Duncan made a lightening-swift change from Oliver with a hard, brimmed cap to Touchstone with a skull cap and red clown’s nose—at a speed that seemed almost unbelievable.
Bradford knows how to keep a play engaging and moving at a quick pace. Even though there is essentially no backstage in the Shake on the Lake format, characters seemed to drop in from nowhere, sneaking around the audience to appear in the performance space for each new scene. He solved the problem of having too few actors to play the four couples getting married at the end (Duncan could have been charged with bigamy) by omitting all but the brothers and the cousins they married.
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