Shakespeare on the Green is celebrating their 25th anniversary season at Greenfield Lake Amphitheatre by re-creating their first season: “As You Like It” and “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” In the intervening 25 years, Cape Fear Shakespeare has morphed into Shakespeare on the Green and added its youth company, which performs during the week “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” The adult company, under the direction of Nicholas T. Reed, with artistic advising by Christopher Marino, bring “As You Like It” to life.
During my visit last week, I attended “As You Like It.” The show follows Orlando (Matt Carter), who is feeling hard done by his older brother (Austin Guilliams)—who controls his inheritance, refuses to educate him in the ways of a gentleman and prepare him to manage his due. They exchange sharp words (surprise!) and part on bad terms. Adam (Taylor England), an old family retainer, throws in his fortunes with Orlando, who at least treats him with concern rather than rudeness. Orlando, in disguise, sets off to court to challenge the Duke’s wrestler, Charles (Darien Bradley). There, he meets the Duke (Zeb Mims), who actually has usurped the throne from his brother (also Mims) and two young women: Celia (Bailey Watkins) is the daughter of the usurper, and Rosalind (Arianna Tysinger) is the daughter of the banished Duke. For Orlando and Rosalind, it is twitterpated love at first sight. During this scene, Tysinger and Carter give a sidesplitting parody of what it feels like to try to talk to someone who makes you so excited, you can’t form intelligent sentences, and the self-shaming that follows.
The usurper decides he must rid himself of Rosalind; the people are too fond of her, and she reminds them of her father. With the help of Touchstone (Kat Rosner), the court jester, the two girls run off to the forest in search of Rosalind’s father and his court in exile, with Rosalind in disguise as a boy named Ganymede. A clown and two girls alone in a forest filled with wild animals and exiled men. What could go wrong? They do find the court in exile, complete with Jaques (Erika Edwards), a melancholy would-be sophisticate who holds forth at great length on all topics. Edwards’ Jaques is faintly British and thoroughly impressed with himself, sort of the likely result of Rupert Everett and John Malkovich together having a child.
It is pretty surprising to think for a quarter century this community has enjoyed an annual outdoor Shakespeare festival. I watched picnic hampers arrive in the hands of happy families. Couples sipped wine under the stars, the frogs serenaded the players, and one tenacious crow cawed back to Tysinger for a good chunk of Act One. For creating the Forest of Arden, it is the perfect setting. Shakespeare’s work remains an enigma to many people. It is alluring because it has an aura of pretention and sophistication; though, he clearly wrote for some truly base tastes.
Still, the show went through some pretty rough patches. The expository monologue was not about discovery, so much as trying to get to the end of the page. Not Machiavellian plans-shaping but rather a very dry, boring recitation. Many of the performances were very funny and compelling, but others were so undeveloped as to be mystifying. However, Sean Owens hunting Austin Guilliams as a deer in the Forest of Arden was a wonderful blend of “aww”-inducing cuteness and dark humor. My date enjoyed the show, once he moved forward a few rows so he could hear better.
Shakespeare on the Green does an excellent job of producing Shakespeare that is accessible. Audiences will grasp the story line, and definitely root for Rosalind to win Orlando’s hand and be restored to her rightful inheritance. Tysinger is strong, angry, and clearly enjoying her newfound freedom disguised as a man and away from the prying eyes of court. Carter’s Orlando has moments of over-the-top physical comedy (Carter’s secret weapon on stage), followed by confusion and immature ambivalence. In other words, he is a normal, young man, completely unready for the responsibilities of the real world. One has to wonder what the hell Rosalind sees in him. She could do way better. If only Touchstone were not so preoccupied with his own love affair, perhaps he could talk some sense into her and help her set her sights a little higher. But the clown is trying to get his own needs met (Biblically speaking), so Rosalind is on her own. I have so been that girl; I wanted to do an intervention for her. But she is just going to have to figure out on her own: Raising a man-child to adulthood is no fun, and she really should have fallen for who he is now rather than who he can be.
Rosalind is an odd character to approach onstage. In the Bard’s lifetime, she would have been played by a male dressed as a woman, who then dons a disguise of a man. Gender-bending on a Friday night at the Blackfriars knew no bounds—except to allow women to perform onstage. In our modern world, Rosalind is played by a woman and the show has taken on an image of an empowered woman—which seems somehow appropriate the weekend that “Wonder Woman” took over America’s box office. Just as the Bard’s work can speak differently to successive generations through new interpretations, hopefully Shakespeare on the Green will evolve to meet the changing needs of our community—and continue to bring live Shakespeare in the Park for another 25 years.