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Wednesday, Dec. 14, 2011

Much to Like in UWM's 'As You Like It'

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The title of As You Like It, one of William Shakespeare's most well-known comedies, sums up the UW-Milwaukee production staged last week. UWM's Department of Theatre joined forces two years ago with Shakespeare & Company out of Lenox, Mass., and this production continues that partnership.

What's to like? Plenty, in terms of director Bill Watson's experimental forays into the use of different accents, costuming, set design and staging, while accentuating the humor of the Bard's words. This is, after all, an educational program intended to teach students in all aspects of theatrical production. And Watson draws upon the timeless nature of Shakespeare's classic themes: sibling rivalry, gender masquerades, romance, love and, ultimately, forgiveness.

As one brother, Duke Frederick, sends another brother, Duke Senior, into exile to usurp his kingdom, the exiled duke's daughter, Rosalind, soon follows along with her faithful cousin, Celia. Rosalind, one of the Bard's strongest female characters, must juggle her vulnerabilities as a woman with her concealment as a macho man while she taunts her true love, Orlando. One strength of this production is the level of the (student) acting, and Megan Stapleton makes the most of the back-and-forth gender switch-up.

Playing dual roles as the not-so-brotherly dukes, Derek Morris brings much life and vitality to this production, literally changing before our eyes from the dark, plotting brother to the cheerful, optimistic, exiled brother. Morris is one to watch in the future, as is Caitlin Wolf as the shepherd girl, Phoebe. In yet another subplot, Wolf captivates as the impish, lively woman out to get her man in a cat-and-mouse interplay.

Rebecca Hamlin's scenic design works well with a bare stage populated by wispy silken strands of words hanging down like tree branches and movable cubed units amid sepia washes of light, invoking a forest.

While the production gets an “A” for effort in experimenting, Southern accents for some of the actors tended to distract rather than inform. Also, the jumbled period mix of costumes made this production a head-scratcher in terms of the setting.

In one of Shakespeare's most famous lines from As You Like It, “all the world's a stage.” And, overall, in this “world,” there was much to like upon this “stage.”
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