"A meditation on love: Energetic ‘As You Like It’ opens to record audience in Geneseo"

Review from THE DAILY NEWS for Shake on the Lake's AS YOU LIKE IT, directed by Chad Bradford

GENESEO – “All the world’s a stage” we are told by Jacques in the second act of William Shakespeare’s “As You Like It.”

And where the Shakespearean troupe Shake on the Lake is concerned, we – the audience – are the players called on to yell out “choo choo” when prompted, or drawn into a scene – whether intentionally, or not.

“It was very exciting to see,” said Bill White of Caledonia, who was attending his first Shake show. “I thought it was hilarious the way they mixed traditional Shakespeare with contemporary language. It was very inventive.”

About 170 people – the largest crowd yet to view a Shake on the Lake performance in Livingston County – helped Shake begin its eighth summer with a July 25 performance on the back lawn of the Wadsworth Homestead. Shows continue through Aug. 11 at various locations across Western New York.

“It’s so wonderful to see what kind of community has been fostered in this community and beyond. We see lives change and people get excited. It’s one of the more beautiful experiences you can have as an actor,” said Madeleine Dauer, who stars as Rosalind.

The Perry-based Shake on the Lake began with one location and one show in 2012. For the past five summers it has taken its show on the road. This year, “As You Like It” will be performed 17 times in eight counties. This weekend, the company has performances scheduled at the Perry Public Beach on Silver Lake.

“We believe in rural theater and rural arts,” said Shake co-founder and producing artistic director Josh Rice.

Rice, in describing the acting company’s intent, explained the troupe “wants to make audience and artists not in these two places (holding his hands apart), but here (intertwining his fingers).”

Wadsworth Homestead has provided the opening night for the past five summers and this year’s debut came on a beautiful night for a show. Temperatures were reasonable, skies were blue and by show time shade had enveloped both the audience and stage area.

“I love how they bring Shakespeare to the modern world. It makes it accessible,” said Terry Brayman of Naples, who joined family members Serena Kniffin of Geneseo, Deborah Klee of Rochester, and others at the show.

“This transcends generations,” Kniffin said. “From seven to 70, we have three generations here tonight and they all enjoyed the play mightily.”

Kniffin liked the theatricality and the passion. Klee appreciated the show’s humor and levity.

“I appreciate this as entertainment,” said Klee, who has seen Shakespeare productions in parks in Rochester and Buffalo, but found Shake’s take “more intimate and personal. It was easy to follow.”

“As You Like It” is Shakespeare’s freewheeling meditation on love, said director Chad Bradford.

“Shakespeare seems to ask ‘What is love?’ or ‘What are different kinds of love?’, and also, and perhaps most provocatively, ‘What is not love?’,” Bradford said.

In directing the production, Bradford said he found inspiration in the “Summer of Love” and other spiritual paths that came from the 1960s and 1970s.

As for the plot: Rosalind’s cruel uncle Duke Frederick (Josh Marcks) usurps his twin brother Duke Senior (also played by Marcks) from the throne and banishes him. Senior’s daughter, Rosalind, disguises herself as a boy to flee persecution in her uncle’s court. Accompanied by her faithful cousin Celia (Sharon Combs) and the clown Touchstone (Matthew Duncan), they seek safety, freedom and eventually love in the idyllic Forest of Arden. There, love notes grow on trees and music bewitches the air.

They also encounter a variety of characters, including melancholy traveler Jacques (Malcolm Tucker), who speaks many of the play’s most famous lines, and Orlando (Ladarius Jamerson), a brave gallant whom Rosalind – putting her own heart in peril as she has fallen for Orlando – instructs him on how to best woo a woman.

Along the way, they discover that love is never simple, idealism is sometimes naïve, and the forest will not protect them from the outside world forever.

And just in case you think Shake on the Lake is playing too close to Shakespeare’s original, Josh Rice – in a significantly smaller role than last summer’s Richard III – channels his best “Macho Man” Randy Savage for a wrestling scene with Orlando. Rice played the role with vigor – thrusting about the stage, pulling in Savage’s catchphrases such as the bombastic “Oh, yea …” and exhorting the audience to respond to his “chugga chugga” with a raucous “choo choo.”

The wrestling scene is in the original play, through Rice acknowledged that he took inspiration from the over-the-top professional wrestling programs of his youth.

“It was a chance to play out my childhood dreams of stage,” he said.

Robin Finley, who had Rice as a student in English and journalism classes in high school, reveled in her former student’s success.

“I might have imagined there would be greatness. He was a bright shining star, and it’s grown,” Finley said.

She said Shake on the Lake has made Shakespeare accessible.

“To bring something like this to a small venue, and make it comfortable for all ages … this is not like something we’ve had before,” she said.

Each performance is accompanied by a half-hour or so of pre-show entertainment. Opening night featured a selection of songs about love: most familiar – Robert Palmer’s “Addicted to Love”; some ironic – Lady Gaga’s “Bad Romance” or The Rolling Stones’ “You Can’t Always Get What You Want”; and one stunner – Jamerson’s cover of The Temptations’ “My Girl.”

The five-act “As You Like” typically plays out in four or more hours. Shake on the Lake does it in 90 minutes or less.

“I don’t know what they actually left out,” said Tom Reagan of Perry, who had re-read the play before coming to the show. “I felt like the whole story was here.”

Reagan said he enjoys Shakespeare and sees Shake on the Lake whenever he can.

“They are,” he said, “fun and energetic and creative.”


by Ben Beagle