February 18, 2006

As you like it

Groovy.

This term's mainstage was a really clever reinterpretation of As you like it in 1960s Berkeley (or at least, in that mythical 1960s Berkeley that is now part of the American story). As director Liz Carlin-Metz put it, this sort of re-setting of Shakespeare lets you "double your pleasure, double your fun"—rather than having to slowly learn the characters and the backstory through only the text, with pretty but unhelpful period costume, putting it in a different milieu gives you a lot of that for free. You might never have heard of the Forest of Arden before, but see it filled with a bunch of tie-dyed hippies, and a whole truckload of cultural connotations snap to mind with nary a word spoken.

There was so much to like about this production. The cast dynamic was convincing, a true ensemble; the text itself very, very funny and the director and cast skilled enough to bring out the best in it; individual actors with a clear character that tells you what the text doesn't; and everywhere a plethora of little things going on off to the side that add to the overall scene.

The music was an unexpected change from the usual, if there can be said to be a "usual" for Harbach productions. Set up far downstage right was a drumset and amp for a band, which by the time I got there was already playing some Beatles classics (and dressed in the black-and-white Old Beatles uniforms) that had much of the audience dancing. During the show they accompanied the songs (60s-rock-style accompaniment by Adam Prairie, lyrics by William Shakespeare) and during the intermission they returned to rock standards by the Beatles and the Who. They were a key element in making the Berkeley setting work, and Adam should totally publish his music for other troupes who want to do this kind of setting for the show.

BEST SET CHANGE EVER.

(And yes, I noticed the gold lamé boxer shorts. Check.)

I think the award for best actor in this particular show has to go to Morgan Cohen-Ross, who played a Celia with such casual elegance that she stole nearly every scene she was in, and yet her airiness and sense of entitlement didn't extend to an uncaringess or sense of superiority that would have made the character an unsympathetic one. Put her in a gathered hippie dress and she blends (elegantly) right into the commune. But mixing a martini on top of her luggage in the middle of the Forest of Arden? Priceless. It came out in the post-show Q&A that this is not a common reading of the character. Liz claimed it was all there in the text, but it's more than that; Morgan's reading of "Orlando." as a snarky mimic to Rosalind's shrieky, swoony "Orlando?", that was pure genius. And her melodramatic rendition of the bad love poetry, ending with a rhyming couplet that pairs "have" with an inevitable, unapologetic, and completely hilarious "slav(e)", that deserves an award of its own.

Matt Allis didn't (for some reason) strike me as the theatre type when I met him earlier this year in unrelated contexts, but I now realise that this is the third production I've seen him in (and I see from the program that he is indeed a Theatre major). And, theatre type or not, he did a great job. He took his lovestruck Orlando pining for Rosalind—which should by rights be a completely annoying character—and made him believable but funny and fun to watch.

In a similar vein, Supporting Actor props go to Nick Perry, who played such a pitiable Silvius that the whole audience couldn't help but go "awwwww" (well, the ones that weren't laughing, anyway) when he yet again reached for his hanky, lip quivering, and let out an anguished sob. Poor Silvius!

There are so many great lines in this show, even compared to other Shakespeare. "Ay, but the feet were lame and could not bear themselves without the verse and therefore stood lamely in the verse." Scansion humour! A lot of linguistic jokes, actually. "You ... show the world what the bird hath done to her own nest." That's a joke grenade right there—a measurable pause between the delivery of the line and the audience's laughter. When Rosalind talks about "Ethiope words, blacker in their effect than in their countenance," I had to make a note of it; I still can't decide whether it's really racist or not, but the turn of phrase is just too clever.

What more is there to say? The script is clever. The director's interpretation is clever. The ensemble has made their parts their own, and the play is very, very funny.

"For I must tell you friendly in your ear,
Sell when you can: you are not for all markets!" --William Shakespeare, "As you like it" (Rosalind)

Posted by blahedo at 12:56am on 18 Feb 2006
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