Monday, July 2, 2012

As You Like It In Door County

A theatre group in transition turns to a classic Shakespearian romantic comedy

By Russ Bickerstaff
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Last fall, Jerry Gomis and Suzanne Graff left Door Shakespeare. When two directors leave a relatively small theatre company, things change. And when a company is as appreciated as Door Shakespeare is, things don't collapse altogether. They shift, but they don't collapse.

 

And so it is that the largely outdoor summer theatre company in Door County returns to a two-show season this summer under new direction. Interim Artistic Director Ross Dippel chose a couple of shows. The company had already had some success in the very recent past with the RSC's Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged). This summer's production is being directed by frequent Milwaukee area actor Drew Brhel.   

 

The other show chosen for this summer ended up being one that Door Shakespeare has done a number of times in the past--the timeless romance As You Like It. The production is directed by UW Madison's Norma Saldivar. Perhaps inspired by a recent depression-era APT production of the comedy, Saldivar has chosen to set the comedy in the 1920's. Formal attire from the early part of last century doesn't look at all lost in the heavily wooded Bailey's Harbor clearing in which Door Shakespeare performs. The sylvan beauty of the place serves as kind of a cozy outdoor studio theatre atmosphere complete with the occasional Luna moth fluttering by in the stage lights as the show reaches its end after dark. 

 

Recent UW-Madison graduate Joe Lullo is respectably charismatic in the role of Orlando . . . a man who is owed a great deal and who has received very little. After besting a towering figure in a solidly convincing wrestling match, Orlando is banished from respectable society into the forest, pursued by a woman he has fallen deeply in love with. Her name, of course, is Rosalind and she is traveling through the forest disguised as a man for various reasons. Here Rosalind is played by Amy Ensign. In disguise, she toys with the affections of Orlando in a way that only occasionally manages to come across as anything other than weird in most productions. Ensign and Lullo do a pretty good job of making this interaction seem charming. 

 

Of course, this being Shakespeare, there are quite a lot of other things going on. It is in these other corners of the script that this particular production of As You Like It really distinguishes itself. Recent Shepherd-Express reader favorite Angela Iannone plays a couple of rolls here. She's playing two men . . . authority figures on opposite sides of the hero-villain spectrum . . . the problem here may be that she's way too effective as an iron-willed tyrant at the beginning of the play to seem at all convincing as anything else in the other role . . . she's just too good at the beginning to make the end work, which is only a bit disappointing. 

 

Ryan Schabach puts in a particularly inspired the hopelessly smitten Silvius. He is deeply, deeply in love with Phoebe (Alanna Reeves) but she loves him not. THings get complicated from there, but Schabach keeps it all staggeringly simple with the earnestly comic exaggeration of a man so completely in love that he would do anything at all for the woman who does not love him. I've seen at least four or five different productions of this over the years, but the character never really seemed that significant until I saw Schabach play him . . . 

 

Another little bit of this play that I never really saw successfully transferred to the stage was a certain speech by a character named Jacques. The character is waxing poetic on an analogy between life and theatre that has become hopelessly cliche. I always thought that the speech, which is analogous to The Riddle of the Sphinx, goes about illustrating the life of a man from beginning to end. It always seemed kind of a weak speech to me . . . no amount of perspective could ever make  "all the world's a stage," seem fresh. I guess I was wrong. Horribly, horribly wrong. Drew Brhel is playing Jacques here and he's doing a brilliant job of it. Brhel's delivery of that speech is absolutely heartbreaking. It is delivered perhaps exactly as it was intended . . . a deeply sad and moving departure from the comedy. The rest of Brhel's performance lives up to the heartfelt execution of that speech in a production that is a thoroughly satisfying trip to Door County. 

 

Door Shakespeare's  production of As You Like It runs through August 12th at Bjorklunden in Bailey's Harbor, Wisconsin. For ticket reservations, call 920-839-1500.

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