Sunday, July 12, 2009

As You Like It, Ohio Shakespeare Festival

(Joy Marr as Rosalind and Ernie Gonzalez as Touchstone. Photo by Phil Kalina.)

If you’ve ever wished that a Shakespeare production could somehow be outfitted with annotations and footnotes, to help you understand what’s going on at every moment, there’s a much easier (and more enjoyable) alternative. Just sit in the audience while the Ohio Shakespeare Festival is performing.

As supervised by artistic director Terry Burgler, each OSF outing is a marvel of clarity and precision, rendering even the most obtuse digressions by Will suddenly comprehensible. The result is a kind of euphoric time travel in which one feels transported back 400 years to the Globe Theatre, relishing all of the bard’s words with immediate glee just as his audiences did then.

As You Like It is the most recent example of OSF magic, splendidly directed by Jason Marr who also takes the lead part of Orlando. Buoyed by one of Shakespeare’s wittier scripts, and anchored by the famous “Seven Ages of Man” speech, this staging nicely captures the playwright’s satirical take on the “nobility” of country life (take that, Sarah Palin) and the sublime vagaries of romantic love.

Rosalind and Celia, being the daughters of battling brothers Duke Senior and Duke Frederick respectively, form the keystone of this play. Joy Marr is exceptional as Rosalind, both as close girlfriend and confidant of Celia, and when disguised as a boy out in the Forest of Arden. She is almost matched by Tess Burgler, whose Celia is not as simple and innocent as she is often portrayed.

In another feisty brother act, Orlando chafes under the rule of his elder brother Oliver, until Orlando’s unexpected victory in a wrestling ring with Oliver’s goon sets him on a liberated course. Jason Marr fashions a delightful Orlando that is by turns combative, perplexed and swooning with love for Rosalind. His second act scene with the cross-dressed Rosalind is a gem of verbal thrust and parry.

The fool Touchstone is played by Ernie Gonzalez, an actor who can do no wrong with the audience. Speaking in a plain manner that suits his down-to-earth character, Gonzalez triggers much laughter with deft stage business and an expressive face that speaks volumes when he is silent. Terry Burgler adds to the fun as the melancholic Jacques, who aspires to be a fool, and Geoff Knox as the ambiguously fey Le Beau. Also excellent are Eric Lualdi as Sylvius, the love-struck shepherd, and Amelia Britton as Phoebe, his reluctant objet d’amour.

Employing a lot of eye contact with the audience, an OSF trademark, the players coax even the most reluctant audience members into the Shakespearian fold. And they are held there by the company’s insistence on crafting even the smallest characters with detail (to wit, Henry C. Bishop’s amusing shepherd Corin and Courtney Vatis’s lusty wench Audrey, the apple of Touchstone’s eye).

As it happens, the outdoor lagoon setting on the Stan Hywet estate is the perfect setting for love in the woods, making this As You Like It a play you simply must experience.

As You Like It
Produced by the Ohio Shakespeare Festival at
the Stan Hywet Hall & Gardens, 714 North Portage Path,
Akron, 330-315-3287

No comments: