Full Review: AS YOU LIKE IT

by Lynn on April 24, 2019

in The Passionate Playgoer

At the Junction City Music Hall, 2907 Dundas St. W., Toronto, Ont.

 

Written by William Shakespeare

Directed by Drew O’Hara

Choreography by Jade Douris

Designed by Catherine Rainville

Cast: Hilary Adams

Daniel Briere

Michael Chiem

Olivia Croft

Jade Douris

Aubree Erikson

Kaleb Horn

Brittany Kay

Justin Mullen

Cara Pantalone

Lesley Robertson

Hallie Seline

Jonny Thompson

Pure Joy!!!

 The Story. It’s complicated, but at its heart As You Like It is about romance, dysfunctional families, jealous brothers, cross dressing and love when you least expect it.  Duke Frederick has banished his brother Duke Senior because he wants to rule the dukedom. Duke Senior and his courtiers find safe haven in the Forest of Arden. In the meantime, Duke Frederick allows his niece Rosalind to live in the palace because Rosalind is close with Duke Frederick’s daughter, Celia. Duke Frederick even turns sour on Rosalind and evicts her from the palace. In defiance Celia leaves as well. Both women escape to the Forest of Arden. Rosalind dresses as a man for protection. Celia does not. Before they leave Rosalind and Celia see Orlando, a young man fight a man named Charles in a contest and Rosalind falls in love with Orlando. Orlando also has a mean brother, Oliver, and after several slights Orlando leaves the dukedom and goes to the Forest of Arden as well. They all meet up in the Forest. (It must be getting pretty crowded there). Rosalind in disguise as a man agrees to help Orlando practice wooing Rosalind, should he ever see her again. So, yeah it’s complicated and loving and very funny.

The Production. As with all Shakespeare BASH’d productions, this one takes place in a bar with the audience on two sides of the long playing area. The lights are up on the proceedings and the action is so close to the audience an instant sense of intimacy results. This intimacy certainly exists when a character sits next to you and engages you with a knowing look (and since one is polite, one returns the look).  There are a few props, perhaps a table, with a stage of sorts at one end of the long room. Two musicians, both impish (Hilary Adams and Kaleb Horn) play guitar and sing from the stage at the beginning. They also act in the play.

Director Drew O’Hara establishes the humour of the piece immediately by having Charles (Jonny Thompson) (the person Orlando will fight once the show starts) jog out, his hair in a man-bun, he wears sweat pants and leads a group of women and a few men in sweat gear in calisthenics, There is a lot of heavy breathing from the cast as Charles leads them through their paces. Then just as quickly they jog/prance off.

O’Hara mines the play for every nugget of humour and humanity. A wink from Orlando (a passionate, honourable Justin Mullen) to Rosalind (Hallie Seline) speaks volumes about affection and connection. The scene change from the Duke’s court to the lush foliage of the Forest of Arden is the best I’ve ever seen and is done in a burst of imagination, energy and music. The forest dwellers, lead by Duke Senior (a charming Daniel Briere who also plays Duke Senior’s mean, ill-tempered brother Duke Frederick) who wears an orange shirt, beads, dark pants and shoes with no socks and the others who carry hanging plants that are hung around the space along with garlands of leaves. A wood table also appears—voila in a thrice, the Forest of Arden. Dazzling.

Various characters fall in love with other characters not realizing they are hiding something: Orlando falls in love with Rosalind and is tutored in loving by Rosalind in disguise as a young man; Phoebe (a wonderfully forthright Brittany Kay), a young peasant girl falls in love with the young man who is really Rosalind in disguise; Silvius (a sweet Michael Chiem) loves Phoebe. Rosalind played with a keen sense of humour and girlish enthusiasm by Hallie Seline, promises each lover that they will marry the one they want if possible and they “will be married tomorrow. To illuminate the complexity of the relationships O’Hara has the four characters flit across each other as Rosalind mentions them in turn. That staging is clever and telling. The connection of affection between Hallie Seline’s Rosalind and the eager, enthusiasm of Justin Mullen as Orlando, is touching and at times and full of the ache and intoxication of new love. Lovely work from both. Acting as a kind of thoughtful and lively presence for Rosalind is Celia, Rosalind’s cousin, played with watchful, smart, smiling joy by Jade Douris.

There is considerable gender-bending casting: Aubree Erickson plays a prickly Oliver who wants to keep “her” brother Orlando subservient; Cara Pantalone plays old Adam, a loving servant to Orlando among other characters to lovely comic effect; Olivia Croft plays a rather mirthful, sarcastic Jacques who is not as melancholy as one might expect but says that he is not that kind of “melancholy”; Lesley Robertson is a lively, quick-witted Touchstone; and Jonny Thompson lets down his man-bun as Charles to play Audrey, a moon-faced, innocent who falls for Touchstone. It’s all done with style and beautifully placed physical humour.

It’s a wonderfully rendered, joyful, loving, often moving production. And they provide the perfect ending when the whole cast sings at the end, playing ukuleles. Perfection.  .

Comment. Shakespeare BASH’d is a small but mighty company that produces two Shakespeare productions a year in bars. The productions are bare-bones but never stint on brains, intelligence, rigor and respect for the playwright and his work. Their productions burst with the life of the plays. Their shows always sell out but they invite you to come down and they will try and get you in. One doesn’t expect less from a company that always thanks its audience for coming and ‘don’t forget to tip your bartender.”

Produced by Shakespeare BASH’d

Opened: April 23, 2019.

Closes: April 28, 2019.

Running Time: 2 hours, 30 minutes.

www.shakespearebashd.com

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