Monday, August 2, 2010

As You Like It by William Shakespeare

By Joe Straw

In my younger days growing up in the south and on our black and white television I saw a special presentation on CBS of Peter Pan with Mary Martin.  “Why was that woman playing Peter Pan?”  I asked. It was a confusing situation I was not able to grasp and a complete distraction to the rest of the program. 

Has there ever been a performance where an actor has pulled a gender switch so convincingly in film or theatre?  (Anyone voting for Dustin Hoffman in Tootsie needs his or her eye prescription changed.)

As You Like it by William Shakespeare is being presented by the Kentwood Players and is directed by Karintha Touton at the Westchester Playhouse through August 14, 2010.

One has hope for the Kentwood Players sometimes taking two steps forward and one step back.  This time they’ve taken two steps back in this confusing version of Shakespeare’s As You Like It.

Much of the problem falls in the lap of the director, Karintha Touton, who made a strong choice in her direction but ultimately one could question if the choice made sense.  This slightly abbreviated production is a Shakespearian goulash of style and of costumes from modern day dress to Elizabethan costumes in the forest of Arden. 

And this particular production is asking the audience to stretch our imaginations beyond credulity. One would also have to ask how do the television monitors relate to the natives of the forest?  How does this all tie together?

To be fair there were fascinating aspect to this show.  Does it work as a cohesive venture?  Probably not, but ultimately one would need to see it to accept or deny its premise.

A successful production must have a core or through line to carry the directors message.  But most of these actors were not able to grasp the director’s choice and were left stranded with bewildered objectives.

Well, what is the problem?  As You Like It, As You Like It, As You Like It.  As a character in this play one should keep repeating this phrase to oneself until one gets the meaning of this play. 

Objectives are carried by the title, As You Like It.  If the objectives are not clear then it is clearly only a pastoral comedy. 

Think of the conflict imagined by saying the title, As You Like It. 

Can art be as simple as that? 

So why aren’t we seeing, being and feeling this comedy, As You Like It?

As You Like It speaks about alternatives.  Generally a character gives the options of what he would like the other character to do and then it is the decision of the other character to accept it or discard it.  This is a play on words, of give and take, of back and forth, action and reaction.  It is really that simple.

Simply put, Orlando (Lorenzo Bastien) has been kept hidden from his evil weak brother Oliver (Mark  Mayes). 

My father charged you in his will to give me a good education:  you have trained me like a peasant, obscuring and hiding from me all gentlemen-like qualities – Orlando

Orlando tears the fabric of life from that which is the makeup of Oliver.

Not completely undone Oliver conspires with Charles (Marco Antonio Garcia) to fight Orlando and to seriously harm him.

Rosalind (Meredith M. Sweeney) and Celia (Alison Stebbins) enter with Nordstrom shopping bags and speak of Celia’s inheritance from her father, Duke Frederick (Rick Gates).

Touchstone, the fool, (Drew Fitzsimmons) is a messenger of sorts and informs the ladies of a wrestling match.  The ladies appear and Rosalind falls in love with Orlando.  Orlando wins the match and the heart of Rosalind.  (By the way this is a very nice fight scene, think gritty Flight Club scenario, choreographed by Drew Fitzsimmons.)

But tragedy strikes Rosalind when the Duke Frederick banishes her from the castle.

Within these ten day if that thou be’st found so near our public court as twenty miles, thou diest for it. – Duke Frederick

And so into the forest of Arden they go.  Rosalind fears for her life and disguises herself as a man to avoid injury, and Celia a true companion, along with Touchstone, goes with her.

Orlando, fearing for his life, flees into the forest of Arden with his companion Adam (Scot Renfro). Later after their journey into the darkness of the Arden forest, Adam begs Orlando for food or he will die.

For my sake be comfortable; hold death awhile at the arm’s end:  I will here be with thee presently; and if I bring thee not something to eat, I will give thee leave to die: - Orlando

Orlando searches for food, finds it, but tries to take it by force.

Your gentleness shall force more than your force move us to gentleness. – Duke

Renfro as Adam was very surprising with nice characterization. Stebbins as Celia was wonderful in this production (aside from the Nordstrom bags).  Susie McCarthy plays Jaques as a woman, nevertheless a very nice performance and always wonderful to see her at the Westchester Playhouse.

Rick Gates as Duke Senior was much more successful than his portrayal as Duke Frederick which was boisterous, and demanding and really not sure where those choices were taking him.

Fitzsimmons as Touchstone was funny at times but not really sure where he was going with this character.  Fight scenes choreographed by Fitzsimmons were magnificent.

Mark Mayes was much more successful as Martext, a character he can sink his teeth into rather than Oliver.

Melodie S. Rivers was fantastic as Hesperia and Lauren Bilingsley was much too pretty to be Audrey but very successful nevertheless. 

Garcia as Charles needs work on his voice and to develop a better sense of his objectives.

Catherine Rahm (Corin) was good on the guitar.  Jordan Bland was quite good as Hymen and David Neiman as Silvius rounds out the cast.

Sweeney was not convincing as Rosalind the man (but that’s just me), but very charming as Rosalind the woman.  It’s always nice to see her at the Westchester Playhouse.  

Bastien has been better in other productions at the Kentwood Playhouse.  There is much more to the character of Orlando than was presented.  Bastien is very young and pleasing to the eyes and one hopes vocal strength along with maturity will help his career in the future.   

Martin Feldman has a very nice voice as Amiens in the forest of Arden. Not sure what the focus of his anger was about when Jaques gave him other lyrics to the song he was singing.  Maybe he wanted to sing the song As He Liked It. 

There is what seems to be like hundreds of people working on the production at the Westchester Playhouse.  And I’m sure working very hard but maybe needing a little more focus to pull off something like this.

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