OSF’s open air production of ‘As You Like it’ does Shakespeare proud
From its first conception over 400 years ago, Shakespeare’s works have been best suited to be performed out of doors. The Globe Theatre of London is a roofless structure that exposes actors and audience alike to the elements and Shakespeare in the park is a tradition that traces its beginnings back through four centuries of performances.
In order to do environmental Shakespeare “proper” you must have key elements in place. The first is an easily traveled to but semi-secluded venue. The second is a sturdy stage structure that allows room for the audience’s imagination to set sail. The third is a company of energetic players who throw themselves headlong into the demanding roles with complete abandon.
These key elements come together during the summer months as The Ohio Shakespeare Festival gathers at Stan Hywet Gardens in Akron in order to perform various works of the Bard (mostly comedies). This production’s opening night was delayed when the Friday show was literally washed out during a series of torrential rains and hurricane type winds.
This delay inspired the company to bring even more energy to the Saturday performance. The show begins with a traditional “Greenshow” of ribald songs and dance thus locking in the mood of the audience for the upcoming comedy. As the players hit the stage for the performance of “As You Like It” actors and audience are in full sync. One word of warning, although chairs are provided cushions are not and with over three hours of combined “sit time” it would do well to help soften the battle of the bum.
The setting is near what is now known as the Ardennes, France. Younger brother Orlando after defeating Duke Frederick’s wrestling champion, Charles (of which the match had been fixed by his older brother, Oliver, in order to harm his sibling) is forced to flee the kingdom and take refuge in the surrounding forest. Prior to this, Duke Frederick had exiled his older brother, Duke Senior to the surrounding forest while allowing his daughter Rosalind to remain in court due to the girl’s friendship with Frederick’s daughter.
As Orlando is leaving the kingdom with his father’s former servant, Adam, he happens upon Rosalind and falls madly in love with her. Suddenly, Rosalind suddenly falls out of court favor and disguising herself as a young man flees with her friend Celia and the court Jester, Touchstone, for (where else? You guessed it…) the forest.
Duke Senior has with him friends of court and they soon set up housekeeping in the woods, hunting game and gathering the various fruits and vegetables in order to survive (they even have a way to bake bread). Among the Duke’s supporters is the melancholy Jaques who is given the task to deliver some of the Bard’s most brilliant soliloquies. As Rosalind, now disguised as the young man Ganymede (apparently all that was needed as a total disguise in Shakespeare’s time was a new set of duds) and Celia, now as a female Aliena, make their way in the forest they meet the sheppard, Corin with who they agree to purchase the man’s master’s crude cottage in which to live in.
Soon all of the principles are bumping into each other in the vast woods and falling in love. Orlando roams the forest carving love poems on trees dedicated to Rosalind. Rosalind (as Ganymede) falls head over heels in love with Orlando. Touchstone becomes betrothed to a local shepherdess, Audrey, who was pursued by a local boy named William. Orlando’s brother, Oliver, falls for Celia/Aliena after having his life saved by Orlando whom he now wants back home. Phebe (another local shepherdess) falls in love with Rosalind/Ganymede while pursued by Silvias (a Sheppard boy). It’s simple…Yes?
What makes this production so exemplary is of course the acting. Along with the rapid fire lines done in Middle English Iambic Pantameter, the body language and facial expressions make the action on stage easily translatable. After over four hundred years the comedy lines still get laughs and the telling dialogue is still relevant. Shakespeare dealt in universal themes thus the continuing popularity of his works. If you’re past experience with the Bard was a high school English Lit teacher suffering you through a monocyclic droning of Hamlet, you really owe it to yourself to see how well Shakespeare can be done as live theater.
Of special note in the cast are Andrew Gorell* as Touchstone whose rubber face and legs get most of the laughs. Tess Burgler as Rosalind whose love struck antics and superb fainting spells are an art form in themselves. Ryan Zarecki as Orlando who endures bruising falls during the fight scenes only to bounce back for more, Joe Pine as Charles who commands the stage with his presence, Mark Stoffer as LeBeau who scores with the most memorable lines of the play and Lara Mielcarek* as Phebe whose facial tics register as she attempts to ponder Rosalind over her beau Silvius.
*Member of Actors Equity Association
Pack a nice picnic dinner, but leave the wine and beer at home since Stan Hywet does not allow you to bring your own (they check all incoming containers). Beer and wine can be purchased at the concession stand (go figure) as well as a variety of snacks and sandwiches. Have a nice meal in the open air and relax for an evening of superb Shakespeare as he originally intended. “As You Like It” is packed with comedy, romance, action, song and dance making it one of the most sought after productions, and OSF does it extremely well!
The Ohio Shakespeare Festival open air production of “As You Like It” will be on stage at Stan Hywet Gardens through July 16, 2017. Tickets and other information are available by going online at http://www.ohioshakespearefestival.com/. Show days and times are Thursday through Sunday with the Greenshow beginning at 7:30 p.m. and the play at 8 p.m.
OSF’s next summer production at Stan Hywet Gardens will be “The Winter’s Tale” that will be on stage from July 28 through August 13, 2017.