Sunday, October 29, 2017

DelShakes' "As You Like It" Tours Community ...and We Like It!

Danielle Leneé as Rosalind and Bi Jean Ngo as Celia.
Photo by Allessandra Nicole.
Courtesy of Delaware Shakespeare.
By Mike Logothetis

The Globe Theatre in London became world renowned by staging William Shakespeare’s histories, tragedies and comedies upon its wooden planks. Shakespeare was a shareholder in the Globe, which meant the more people he got into the building, the more money he made. The Globe became iconic and drew patrons from far and wide to see The Bard’s latest (brilliant) play.

Delaware Shakespeare’s superb production of As You Like It does not have a permanent home like The Globe. Instead, the merry troupe of actors, musicians and staff are traversing Delaware this fall bringing The Bard to locations not typically hip to his iambic pentameter.

Delaware Shakespeare launched its Community Tour last year with Pericles, Prince of Tyre. Community Tour productions play in non-theatrical settings such as multipurpose rooms, cafeterias, gymnasiums and even prisons. The production values are scaled for those spaces, with live music, minimal sets and whatever lighting is available. The year’s production is performed with a cast of eight actors and a musician, which allows for some creative multi-role casting. (In fact, the performance of As You Like It uses an audience member reading from a script to play Hymen in Act V.)

Producing Artistic Director David Stradley told me he looks for spaces that can hold a seated audience between 40 and 120 people in a four-sided arrangement. Stradley stressed that Delaware Shakespeare searches for communities which may be underserved by the arts and whose residents might find difficulty traveling to Rockwood Park for its annual Summer Festival.

The Community Tour is not just making stops, but introducing Shakespeare and the world of live theater to many people who’ve never experienced its wonders. I was pleased to see the actors welcome everyone who entered the cafeteria at Groves Adult High School in Marshallton. Cast members introduced themselves, who they would play, what we might expect, plus exchanged simple pleasantries. In this way, the space became very accessible.

As You Like It follows its heroine Rosalind (Danielle Leneé) and her cousin Celia (Bi Jean Ngo) as they flee the court of Duke Frederick (J Hernandez), who is Celia’s uncompromising father. The pair put on disguises and escape into the nearby Forest of Arden along with court fool Touchstone (Adam Altman). 

 Meanwhile, Rosalind’s suitor Orlando (Trevor William Fayle) has also fled into the woods to escape his exploitive brother Oliver (Jeffrey Cousar). The two lovers cross paths, but Orlando cannot recognize the inspiration for his many romantic poems. A variety of memorable characters also exist in the forest, notably the melancholy traveler Jaques (Liz Filios) who capably utters one of Shakespeare’s most famous speeches (“All the world’s a stage/And one man in his time plays many parts”).

As previously mentioned, there are only eight actors playing the 20-odd roles in As You Like It. It’s marvelous to see Cousar and Hernandez play hot-tempered and then mild, love-struck men in the same production. Altman shined as loyal servant Adam as well as energetic and animated Touchstone. Merri Rashoyan filled four roles (and two genders) skillfully, with her Phebe being a highlight. Only Leneé (Rosalind) and Fayle (Orlando) played one part apiece — but those are meaty parts!

As in any Shakespearean comedy, there is misdirection and love and misplaced blame and redemption — all done wonderfully in this production. A nice touch to the show were the small musical interludes by Joe Trainor (guitar/drum) and Filios (ukulele/accordion). After the show, Trainor told me that Shakespeare had sprinkled partial couplets and text into the script of As You Like It. As no record of a musical score existed, Trainor took it upon himself to compose period pieces to enhance the audience experience. Kudos!

Director Madeline Sayet keeps the pacing brisk and encourages her actors to use the full space. The cast plays to all directions, which connects the action to the audience.

Highlights of the show included the gymnastic wrestling contest between Orlando (Fayle) and Charles (Rashoyan); the ludicrously beautiful facial expressions of actress Bi Jean Ngo; the combined energy of the troupe; the cleverly made trees of Arden; and all those glorious words. If not for Shakespeare’s turns of phrases and rhythmic patterns, his 400-year-old plays would just be old dusty scripts. For instance, Rosalind’s advice on love to Phebe is simply beautiful and timeless.

If, as Rosalind says, “Love is merely a madness,” then I hope newcomers to The Bard fall madly in love with his works, starting with Delaware Shakespeare’s As You Like It.

The autumn Community Tour of As You Like It takes place in venues throughout Delaware from October 25 through November 12. Performances at Baylor Women’s Correctional Institution, Howard R. Young Correctional Institution and Ferris School for Boys are not open to the public. Admission is free with RSVP at info@delshakes.org or 302.415.3373. 

There will also be three ticketed performances ($15-$100) from November 10-12 at OperaDelaware Studios.

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