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Monday, June 11, 2012

OSF 2012: As You Like It (review)



As You Like It, on the Elizabethan stage at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, is worth seeing for its design alone. Its sumptuous, gorgeous set by Todd Rosenthal, reminiscent of the Victorian illustrator Arthur Rackham (whom he credits for his inspiration), and its colorful, ornate costumes by Linda Roethke, which bring all the fantasies of children's books and faerie to life, are an entertainment in themselves. As if that weren't enough, there are hilarious goats and sheep who comment visually on the bucolic nature of country life (try to keep your eyes off them when they're onstage), wildlife lurking in the periphery, beautiful seasonal goddesses with headgear to die for (especially Autumn!), and the most amazing clock you've ever seen. There is lovely, haunting music by Andre Pleuess, and it's nicely sung by the cast, too. There is even a fun, clever story to back all this up--and some great lines!

This version of Shakespeare's romantic comedy is stunning, evoking dreams of Arden even as the characters remind us that by Shakespeare's time the noble savagery of life in the forest was already a myth of a golden age, and other fine customs were just a memory as well (if, indeed, they ever existed). These urban characters are cynics awash in nostalgia, but (as Chekhov's characters were still complaining centuries later) for them country life is a mindless bore, and nature a desert. Yet they do enter for a while into the dream of living in harmony with nature--until a trickster and a turn of fate return them to their rightful places in their modern world. 

The actors were charming; they all seemed to be having a grand time and made the story very easy to follow. Rosalind (Erica Sullivan) and Celia (Christine Albright) had terrific chemistry. Kathryn Meisle stole the show as a mixed-gender Jacques, and Howie Seago was sweetly noble as the Duke (while his sign language added some extra fun to the goings-on). Wayne T. Carr was just right as the smitten Orlando, and his handsome brothers... oh, I liked all of them--though the goats and the Autumn Spirit are the ones whose costumes I most covet.

This production plays the fantasy to the hilt, and I loved it for even being more of a midsummer night's dream than that other play; it has all the magic and less of the edge. Put it all together with Shakespeare's wit, and director Jessica Thebus and OSF have a grand entertainment on their hands, one that surely will be long remembered as an audience favorite.

Erica Sullivan as Rosalind, Peter Frechette as Touchstone, and Christine Albright as Celia.
OSF has posted more photos here: http://pinterest.com/pin/249668373062908822/

*****

(update: I've now seen this twice, from very different vantage points--once during the preview, very close, and again last night (7/8) from a center seat; by a nice coincidence I'd just seen a noon Park Talk a few hours earlier by an OSF carpenter, Eli bCrist-Dwyer, and he went into fascinating detail about that wonderful clock, its tricks and the challenges of building it. Loved both the talk and then seeing the play again.)
*****
Since this is a personal blog, I'll add some personal observations. Someday, just once, I'd love to see a Rosalind who is truly convincing as a cross-dresser, and doesn't play the part with so many winks and nods to the audience about really being a girl. I know a lot of that is in the lines, but still. (Come to think of it, that "I'm really a girl" stuff might go over better when a boy plays the part, as in Shakespeare's time.) Don't get me wrong -- I liked Erica Sullivan very well indeed as Rosalind here, and am not slighting her performance: she is just delightful, and owns the stage as the character should. I can't see my dream Rosalind fitting in, in this particular As You Like It universe anyway. No, Sullivan is great. I'm just saying, in some future production somewhere...

For me, this show was stolen by Kathryn Meisle in the role of Jacques. Oh, my! She is magnificent as a gender-mixing character accepted for what she is in the Duke's court. This is a marvelous departure from the usual melancholy, sad sack male would-be wit; here, Jacques is as manic as he is depressive, and struts and frets with magisterial panache. Who cares what sex she is? Her lunacy is in perfect harmony with the style of this colorful, fun, outrageous production. She even makes Jacques sound better than his lines deserve. Why not?! It's Shakespeare, and it's OSF.

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