The dark, subdued and violent aspects of life and love are balanced against their warm, tender and passionate counterpoints in AS YOU LIKE IT performed at The Milburn Stone Theatre at Cecil College in North East, Maryland.
Audiences familiar with this pastoral comedy by William Shakespeare come to the theatre expecting scenes exploring youthful optimism mixed with sober sensibilities. This comedy is complex not only from the storyline perspective but also on the roller coaster ride of emotional levels. AS YOU LIKE IT explores the various aspects of youthful love portraying love as irrational, inexplicable and also obsessive.
Production design elements created by the team of Marshall Garrett/Director, J. Andrew Dickenson/Original Music, Kelly Rice/Scenic Design, S. Lee Lewis/Lighting Design and Josephine Sui/Costume Design combine well to support this production. The opening and subsequent scenes at court are starkly lit using black/white/gray costuming to establish the aristocratic nature and treachery to be found there. As the scene switches to the Forest of Arden, the color palette becomes one of warm, earth tones. Because of the nature of the set design, entrances and exits were relegated to the wings and so blocking stayed horizontal. When multiple groups were onstage, the lines of people did become visually repetitive over time. The original music was melodic and well sung. In some places (particularly the final piece) it was too long. Perhaps giving the actors some business during the singing (or using the talents of a choreographer) would retain interest as the lovely lyrics unwind.
It was hard to determine if a specific time period was being invoked as the costuming for the court included fairy-like sparkling capes and gowns and ragged and rustic pieces together with sequins and gaudy masks for the forest outlaws (all amazingly clean) . The harlequin pants for Touchstone, the fool, were a great find.
The cast of 19, a few playing multiple roles, perform with eye-catching confidence and ability. Russell Matthews as Orlando comes bounding onto the stage and into audience hearts with good-natured earnestness as he rails against his brother’s containment of his self-espoused possibilities. Matthews retains his enthusiasm and energy throughout his various trials until he achieves his goal of marriage to the lovely Rosalind. Played by Carly Stocking, the character of Rosalind always is a force to be reckoned with. Stocking’s Ganymede persona is less convincing due at least in part to the rather feminine costume (and no make up changes) chosen for her alter ego. A vocal adjustment might also help each characterization appear more clearly. Tess Pohlhaus and her performance as Celia/Aliena was a good match to Stocking. As Stocking retained the regal nature of her Rosalind, Pohlhaus gushed as Celia, the friend and confidante. While as “ladies” in their castle garb, both are believable and charming, their forester disguises and personas are not played to full comic advantage.
The ensemble worked very well together through the complexity and density of this comic production. Deb McGuire receives kudos for her being able to hold her own character of Audrey on stage while Touchstone leapt and bounded around the stage and her to make his various critical points. Josh Singer chose to play Touchstone without the somberness and sarcastic nature with which it is sometimes imbued. Singer kept the audience smiling at his antics. His single-handed dissolution of the fourth wall seeking audience applause did not detract from this production. Joe Grasso does double-duty effectively both as the bulky and none-too-bright Charles the Wrestler then returning to the stage as the good-hearted shepherd, Corin.
A charming piece of theatre is AS YOU LIKE IT as done by The Milburn Stone. It is worth a look and will keep you braced against the cold winds of winter with the warmth of love fulfilled.
AS YOU LIKE IT
By William Shakespeare
Original Music by J. Andrew Dickenson
Directed by Marshall B. Garrett
January 27-February 5, 2012
The Milburn Stone Theatre
One Seahawk Drive
North East, MD 21901
Box Office: 410-387-1037