Monday, July 13, 2009

As You Like It - Performance Log (July 2009)

As You Like It
The Strange Capers
directed by Randy Reyes
Boom Island, Minneapolis
July 12, 2009

At dinner on Sunday, Maren, my 10-year-old, asks me, "What was your favorite part of the play, dad?" It takes me five minutes to come up with an answer.

Is it when Orlando (Max Polski) and Charles the wrestler (Josh Fazeli) face off in their death match, slap hands together, then simultaneously chant "1-2-3-4, I declare a thumb war!" (which is, I notice, pentameter if not iambic)? Or when Orlando subsequently defeats Charles by tickling him until he passes out?

Is it when, at the end of Act I and the last scene in Duke Frederick's court which as been staged in a sweltering, concrete clearing lacking comfortable seating, the entire audience is asked to get up and walk a hundred yards to a grassy, shaded clearing (the Forest of Arden) for the remainder in the play?

Is it when Celia (Christian Bardin), groping for an alias, stumbles over the name she chooses, pronouncing it "alien … uh," and then it becomes a running gag and that's what she gets called for the rest of the play?

Is it that 19 characters are played by nine actors, providing us with a variety of interesting, often cross-dressed parallels and juxtapositions? Audrey, for example, played by the same actor who played Charles, in a skimpy dress and a ridiculous set of blond braids and a little girl voice belying his six-foot, 200 pound frame. Or Duke Frederick and Duke Senior, played by the same woman (Sigrid Sutter), one dressed all in black, the other all in white.

Or is it the playful rendering of the play's songs, as the upbeat ones Amiens (Julie Kurtz) sings, accompanying herself on the ukulele?

It's hard to pick out a stand-out moment, and in a way it's hard to put one's finger on the moment when this production of As You Like It really comes together. In The Rake, a local magazine, Kate Iverson asked director Randy Reyes what one might expect from his production. "First of all," he said, "it won't be a 'puffy pants' production. I've never understood companies that do outdoor theater in heavy costumes." And so there are no puffy pants in the show. Instead there are funny hats ― sombreros, fedoras, baseball caps on backwards ― and one character wearing a funny nose and glasses. I think this is a good metaphor for the production; everyone's trying on something humorous and playful, and some of it fits and some of it doesn't. Why, for example, does Corin seem so devoted to Bocce?

What works best for me are a few images that emerged naturally from the setting. It is this particular theatrical space itself ― the park ― that Reyes' production celebrates and from which it gets its energy. In the court, for example, the audience sits on either side of the square. The actors perform between us moving back and forth on the grid-like concrete (or should I say grid-dle) in straight lines. Moving to the "Forest," the audience arranges itself in a wide semi-circle and the actors tend to move in circular patterns, sometimes running in circles around the entire periphery of the clearing. This spatial delineation of court and pastoral setting, I thought, was very moving. And I would add to that the simple experience of sitting under a tree on the grass watching this celebration of rural life with the tall reminders of city life in the form of downtown Minneapolis starkly visible across the Mississippi River.

Reyes is clearly thinking about the differences between the two settings. In addition to audience location and character costuming (the court dress is dark and formal; the forest is white and/or casual), he calls attention to the difference by beginning and ending the play with very different dances. This As You Like It opens with a very structured dance, the actors moving back and forth and diagonally together in a block, taking stiff off-kilter mannequin-like poses. They freeze as Orlando begins his opening complaint. In the forest at the end, the actors form a line and sing the final verse of Hymen's "wedding song," but in as informal a style as possible, appending a sort of Hawaiian chorus to it. Why the wikki wacki stuff? I don't know. But it was light and frothy, a clear contrast to our impression of court life.

All the playfulness, even in the court where Charles and Orlando's fight (which ostensibly is supposed to end with Orlando's being maimed) becomes silly, tends to run roughshod over the play's darker themes. That seems fine with The Strange Capers. This production is comedy through and through, and one leaves with the impression there'll be no returning to the dreary and depressing court. Duke Frederick's repentance and conversion is edited out. Rosalind and Orlando are dressed in white and dancing in the park.

And I think, in the end, my favorite part of The Strange Capers' performance is its existence itself, that there are now, with Cromulent and Chameleon Theatre Circle, three free summer Shakespeare-in-the-park companies in the Twin Cities area. As long as The Strange Capers is devoted to finding entertaining ways to put Shakespeare on, something memorable will always emerge.

For Maren, it was the ukulele.

Logged by Randall

Photo: Emily Shain as Rosalind and Max Polski as Orlando in The Strange Capers's As You Like It. Photo from rehearsal by Amanda Hanson.

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