As You Like It
nytheatre.com review by Judith Jarosz
August 17, 2010
I am a bit of a William Shakespeare geek and love to support groups new and old that help to spread Bard love. This group, The Bama Theater Company, was founded in 2007 by artists who had worked together at the Alabama Shakespeare Festival. Like many small theatre groups, they make a point of stripping down the production values to focus on the actor and the word. For this production, eight actors play all of the roles and all the costumes and props come out of one large black trunk that serves as the only set piece. While simplicity can be enlightening (and budget solving), certain story lines lend themselves more to this style than others and this conceit can prove confusing.
As You Like It is one of the comedy plays by Shakespeare, and the heroine, Rosalind, has the most lines of any of Shakespeare's female characters. In a nutshell, Rosalind, the daughter of a banished duke, falls in love with Orlando, the disinherited son of one of the duke's friends. When she is banished from the court by her usurping uncle, Duke Frederick, Rosalind takes on the appearance of a boy, calling herself Ganymede. She travels with her cousin Celia, who then calls herself Aliena, and the jester Touchstone to the Forest of Arden, where her father and his friends live in exile. Rosalind meets Orlando in the forest as Ganymede and the fun ensues. Themes about life and love, including aging, the natural world, and death are included in the play. New friends are made and families are reunited. Contributing to the action are Oliver, Orlando's evil brother; La Beau, a haughty courtier; Phebe, a wench who has the hots for Rosalind when she thinks she is a boy, and who is played by a boy in drag in this production; and Audrey, a saucy local forest gal. And that's a partial list. A friend who had not read the play attended with me and although we both enjoyed many things about the production, following the characters and story line was difficult for her at times within this format. To make it more challenging, for some reason the cast is listed in the program without listing all of the parts that they play.
The cast—David Mathew Douglas, Greg Foro, Alison Fredrick, Nathan T. Lange, Nick Lawson, Matt Renskers, Chris Roe, and Sarah Walker Thornton—are uniformly talented and they obviously very much enjoy performing together, which is infectious, but acting styles vary. Thornton, refreshingly actually looks like and is believable as a boy, which makes the scenes when she is giving Orlando romantic advice that much more fun. Foro is a strappingly appealing Orlando, and he and Thornton have some nice moments, but there is a lack of a sexual energy between them that would make these scenes really pop. Fredrick as Celia is explosively animated and fun to watch, but at times could be more subdued when the focus is on others. Lawson is over the top and hilarious as Charles the wrestler (gold lame shorts and all) but chooses a much more low-key naturalistic style for Jaques, a lord of the court, which doesn't fit the character's melodramatic melancholy persona. He tosses off one of the Bard's most famous monologues "All the world's a stage..." with a casual shrug. Douglas, Lange, Renskers, and Roe, all do well in their myriad forms, and I especially enjoyed Roe's jester Touchstone, who manages to be wild and endearing at the same time.
Director Greg Thornton does a fine job, giving us interesting stage pictures and keeping much of the action flowing seamlessly. There are some nice live musical interludes that are fun and help the scene changes, with music composed by The Motley Coats (listed as composers Nick Lawson, Chris Roe, and Sarah Walker Thornton, and specializing in the blues style). The exception is one scene which showcases Fredrick's (playing, for that moment, a male member of the Dukes forest gang) considerable belting bluesy vocal talents, that completely stops the flow of the action and seems jarringly out of place. The simple lighting design by Joe Skowronki is effective, and although there is no credit given for costume design, I really like the choices of mostly casual modern dress in black and white with neat touches of color (shocking blue sneakers, a bright headpiece) here and there. This is a worthy group who throw themselves into their work and play. May they have many productions ahead of them!