Shakes It Up
Cell phones and beer bottles are some new wrinkles added to Le Moyne College's mounting of Shakespeare’s As You Like It
There’s only one test for a college
production of a Shakespearean comedy. It’s not just deportment, such as
having a beautiful young actress cross-dress and walk like a guy. Nor
is it the articulate delivery of all those crackling good lines like
“All the world’s a stage,” “And thereby hangs a tale” or “Can one
desire too much of a good thing?” Here’s what you really want to know:
Can these old bones get up and dance? Will the show make you laugh?
For As You Like It, the fall
production from Le Moyne College’s Boot and Buskin Theater Group at the
Coyne Center for the Performing Arts, everything before the
intermission has an amusing quality that feels like a WWE-style
smackdown of a wrestling match. Yet the real hilarity begins to roll in
the last hour. Not just titters, but from-the-gut roaring guffaws. Yes
Like all Shakespearean farces, As You Like It is
not what you’d call plot-driven, although the full story is more
complicated than we can relate here. The backdrop is a political
dispute between two powerful noblemen: Duke Frederick (Jake Miguel),
who has muscled in on his older brother, and the deposed Duke Senior
(Mike Blagys), who lives in bucolic exile in the Forest of Arden. In
this modern-dress production, where some soliloquies are delivered on
cell phones, Duke Frederick is a blue-suited heavy. He’s just the man
to foreclose your grandmother and give himself a $100 million bonus.
The banished duke, meanwhile, has given up the rat race for blissed-out
frolicking in the countryside.
As the action flows on, we begin to
forget politics and pay more attention to several pairs of lovers. The
most important straddle the political divide, the first of a series of
hurdles they must overcome. Tall, glamorous Rosalind (Lauren Pisano),
daughter to Duke Senior, becomes smitten with handsome Orlando (Patrick
McHugh) when he defeats a larger rival, Charles (Andrew Derminio), who
is literally as ferocious as a lion. (Meggan Camp’s lion costume knocks
the audience dead, even though the wearer loses.) Orlando likes
Rosalind, too, but doesn’t get a chance with her before the bullying
Duke Frederick exiles Rosalind and her lovely pal Celia (Kim Pompo).
The girls don’t want to be recognized and so they take disguises.
Rosalind will don pants and go as the boy Ganymede, while Celia
reappears as Ganymede’s girlfriend Aliena, given to valley girl talk.
And they head for the Forest of Arden, with Orlando in pursuit, not
able to recognize them in disguise.
Audiences, who still crave doublets and
ruffs, tend to be suspicious of modern-dress productions of
Shakespeare, accusing them of gimmickry. Director Steve Braddock,
costume designer Camp and scenic/lighting designer Karel Blakeley have
more on their minds than mere cleverness. They have rethought the play
in light of all we have experienced with technology and the often
ambivalent rewards of getting out on the land. In their hands, the
contemporary world is coldly competitive, one of the reasons there are
relatively few laughs in the first half-hour. The scene is dominated by
two frigid, high modernist walls, braced with steel. The Duke’s haughty
enforcer, Le Beau (Alisha Espinoza), and her shades-wearing thugs
present palpable threats. It’s a good place to flee from.
Then Blakeley’s two walls part to reveal the contemporary Forest of Arden, which is Northern Exposure
verging on Tupper Lake. Think mosquitoes and flannel-shirted yokels.
All the denizens drink beer from long-necked bottles. Such innovations
may initially look like an undercutting of the pastoral in this
romance, but they also switch the mood to comedy and romance. And,
paradoxically, they allow for a note of clear-eyed realism.
In Arden all the comic characters are
given freedom to romp. Touchstone (Terry LeCasse), the sarcastic fool
who fled with Rosalind and Celia, falls for a lusty country lass,
Audrey (Jenna Crofoot). In a parody of the main love story, the
shepherd Silvius (Alex Gherardi) pursues the not-so-reluctant
shepherdess Phoebe (Fiona Barbour). Scholars speculate that these
little roles were written to give full employment to all the players in
Shakespeare’s company, but here director Braddock prudently assigns
them to some of his top talent. LaCasse, who has picked up lots of new
tricks at Le Moyne, has had abundant experience in community theater
for nearly 10 years. Similarly, Gherardi stole the show in the Wit’s
End Players’ recent production of The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, and
Barbour is one of the most experienced players from Le Moyne
productions. This also goes for Carmen Viviano-Crafts, another veteran
of Spelling Bee, as Hymen, goddess of marriage, who somehow looks a bit like Cher in 1969.
Good as the lines and the timing are,
more than a few laughs come from a series of visual gags and anomalies.
Touchstone, for example, sports plus fours from the 1920s; he’s also a
dandy and a fussbudget with a germ obsession, as he constantly douses
his hands with liquid cleaner. (Shades of Adrian Monk!) The exiled duke
wanders around like one of the Seven Brothers looking for one of the
Like a frog on a lily pad, the cynic
Jaques (David Melchionne) also roams the Forest of Arden, forming under
his derby. His “All’s the world’s a stage” speech, the most frequently
quoted from the play, is delivered matter-of-factly, like a confidence
shared from a traveler on the road. There’s hardly a speech in all of
Shakespeare where we feel the author speaking directly to us, but in
keeping with the contemporizing of the whole, there is never the weight
of portentousness, only intimacy.
For all the fun in small roles, the
heavy lifting still goes to the leads, each facing different tasks.
Rosalind can be one of the best women’s roles in all of Shakespeare and
was notably favored by the likes of Vanessa Redgrave and Dame Maggie
Smith. Lauren Pisano’s interpretation is well-grounded in the text, a
young woman about the age of a college student whose emotions register
fully on her face. With Orlando the danger is always that he will be
seen only as moonstruck. With Patrick McHugh as Orlando, he’s the buff
victor of the wrestling match with Charles and an alpha male on a
As has long been the tradition with Boot
and Buskin productions, all members of the large cast reflect the close
attention of the director, even when their names can’t make it to the
reviewer’s tally. One meriting her own applause is Lauren Slawson in
the otherwise unrewarding role of Adam, the aged servant of Orlando’s
bullying brother Oliver (Mike Kulha). Donning a prosthetic nose,
Slawson’s Adam drags along with a convincing arthritic walk.
Completing the renewal of As You Like It are the original compositions of Elizabeth Luttinger, a music faculty member at Syracuse University, who also appeared in Spelling Bee. Luttinger
employs several musical styles but wows the audience by restaging the
best-known lyrics, “A Lover and His Lass,” and all its “Hey,
Nonny-Nonnies,” in a rap beat.
The Bard lives. It feels so good when you laugh.
This production runs through Saturday, Nov. 7. See Times Table for information.