Photograph by R.R. Jones
Shakespeare on the Ropes: Cody Nickell's Orlando has a Lucha Libre moment in Shakespeare Santa Cruz's 'As You Like It.'
Shakespeare Heads South
An outstanding 'As You Like It' opens the 25th season at Shakespeare Santa Cruz
By Joyce D. Mann
You may think you know Shakespeare's As You Like It, but Aaron Posner's innovative direction and interpretation, along with wonderful acting, will bring you totally new insights.
Shakespeare Santa Cruz's 25th season opener is a stunning production in which Posner sets this ageless tale of duality and duplicity in America's deep South, back in an unspecified past. Oliver (Mike Ryan) is at odds with his brother Orlando (Cody Nickell) and drives him into exile, along with faithful servant Adam, nicely played by Nick Bilardello. But not before Orlando has seen and fallen in love with Rosalind (Kate Eastwood Norris). Rosalind's uncle, Duke Frederick (Lawrence Hecht) has exiled his brother, Duke Senior (Michael Rudko). In a fit of irrational rage, Frederick then turns on Rosalind and banishes her from the court. Disguised as a boy (Ganymede), Rosalind departs with her devoted cousin Celia (Mary McCool) and the fool Touchstone (Christopher Oden). These disenfranchised people take refuge in the Forest of Arden, where they meet each other and the bucolic natives. The comedy begins.
The tomboyish Norris is brilliant as the disguised Rosalind. She meets the lovesick Orlando, and is appalled that she can't declare her love for him. She hits on the ploy of "pretending" to be Rosalind and allows Orlando to woo her. Ensuing scenes are broad comedy at its best. Eastwood steals the show, but Nickell has his moments, particularly when he is writing foolish rhymes in praise of Rosalind, and pinning them on trees. McCool's rather prim Celia is a nice contrast with Norris.
The Forest is full of lovesick couples. Oden gives a cheeky insouciance to Shakespeare's beloved fool, Touchstone. The buxom Audrey (Shannon Warrick) pursues Touchstone, who obviously has something less honorable in mind than marriage. Then there's the shepherdess Phoebe, played by Sofia Ahmad with an amusing Hispanic slant. She is pursued by the shepherd Silvius. However, she falls in love at first sight with Ganymede. Norris does a nice job explaining to Phoebe, who is rather homely, why she should take Silvius. "Sell while you can," she advises. "You are not for all markets." Finally, a repentant Oliver turns up in the forest and, unlikely as it seems, he and Celia fall in love.
The solitary and lugubrious Jaques looks on the happy couplings with a jaundiced eye. One of nature's pessimists, he is all Gothic melancholy. Dan Donahue's performance as Jaques is a tour de force. He brings an original touch to the familiar monologue "All the world's a stage," not an easy task. He is still alone at the end of the play and wanders off to join Duke Frederick, who has suffered a conversion and joined a religious sect. Craig Wallace deserves a special mention in the role of Corin.
This is one of the most comedic productions of As You Like It I've seen. Director Posner picks up every nuance, and the skillful cast follow through, shading each comic phrase with subtle body language--the shrug of a shoulder, the raising of an eyebrow, and so forth. Posner also gives an amusing nod to the cowboy Western, staging many entries from upstage, where the actors, to the delight of the audience, appear to be coming up over the horizon.
Among this galaxy of stars, the Festival Glen is perfectly cast as the Forest of Arden. Dipu Gupta's set is appropriately simple, and doesn't upstage the Glen. B. Modern's costume design gives just a humorous hint of Grant Wood's American Gothic, but leaves the audience to draw its own conclusions about time and place.
John Zeretzke's original score is stunning and defies categorization. The play opens with crashing percussive notes played on unidentifiable instruments. Since the play takes place in the deep South, Shakespeare's familiar songs such as "Blow, blow thou winter wind" and "Under the greenwood tree" are set to an effective and interesting blend of bluegrass and gospel. The music is beautifully performed.
It's difficult to capture the essence of this wonderful production. However, as I was leaving the Glen at the end of a magical evening, I heard a member of the audience say, "I didn't want it to end." Now that says it all.
As You Like It plays at the Festival Glen, UCSC, through Sept. 3. For performance dates and tickets, go to www.shakespearesantacruz.org, or call 831.459.2159.
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