Remember the last time you had so much fun at a Shakespeare show you couldn’t wait to come home and talk about it? Honestly, me either, and I love the Bard. Still, convincing people to go with me is always difficult. “I can never understand it” or “It’s so stodgy and stuffy” and a slew of other excuses- that aren’t entirely untrue sometimes- seem to get brought up. But in Camarillo Skyway’s new production of As You Like It (Running Feb 8th to March 10) none of these things apply. In what many cardiganed clad, pipe chewing, professors view as one of Shakespeare’s “lesser” works, As You Like It has remained a favorite of audiences (basically Shakespeare’s The Orville) and brings us the immortal words “All the world’s a stage.”
Director Bill Wathall has breathed life and energy into this production that has audiences and cast members excited about 17th Century Theatre. Set in the quirky 1980’s, CSP’s production of As You Like It brings music, laughs, and exuberance to the four hundred and twenty year old play. Wathall has amassed a talented cast of people who share his vision and excitement, lead by Ryanna Dunn as Rosalind.
Dunn’s charisma is on full display as she runs the gamut of emotions and nimbly dances through scenarios, all delivered with a tongue in cheek wit and a sly wink towards the audience. She’s kept grounded by her cohort Libby Bumgartner, playing Rosalind’s cousin, Celia, to great effect. Bumgartner’s tempered delivery coddles Rosalind without stifling her.
To mirror the women we have a pair of young men, Kevin Varkey, the treacherous brother Oliver who commands the stage upon his first entrance, and it is satisfying to watch his character fall and change over the course of the show. His brother, Benjamin Blonigan’s Orlando, Rosalind’s pining love interest, in classic Shakespeare fashion, is fooled into not recognizing his love disguised as a man, and becomes her student. Hungry for relationship advice, Orlando succumbs to her tutelage. The resulting Dunn and Blonigan back and forth is a delicious treat of dramatic irony.
But this show isn’t just about Rosalind and Orlando. As the melancholy Jaques, played by Scott Blanchard, reminds us in his pseudo-emo soliloquy … “all the world’s a stage, and the men and women merely players. Blanchard’s 7 stages of man had me enraptured, and so I would like to shine a light on those “mere players.” This show’s heart is found in those players.
Touchstone, the motley fool, played by Jim Brynes is full of wit and quick ad-libs. An instant favorite (known to our audience by the Thank You 30 episode he did while directing Love Labour’s Lost: The Musical) his riffing reminds of Nathan Lane, you never quite know what you are going to get each night, but it’ll be hilarious. DJ Jackie D, played by Cassie Kelso is the snarky, onstage DJ spinning the 80's tunes and throwing in quippy daggers, Chris Clyne embodies the antagonist, Duke Frederick. Actually, Clyne deftly juggles multiple characters including the lovesick hillbilly Silvius, carrying and unrequited banner for Pheobe- a cold, cool and yet, remarkably likable performance, well delivered by Ashley Maines.
Also wearing multiple hats are Christine Busch Adams, ranging from tie-dye hippie to track suit clad, walker assisted old maid. Mary Comstock, who delivers the difficult Shakespearean lines effortlessly as Corin the shepherd and Rosalind’s mother, Duke Senior. Stephanie Rice jams out as bassist in the band, Touchstone’s love interest Audrey, and flips to menacing 1st Lord, men in black style, with Eric McGowan. McGowan’s simple country boy, William, an audience favorite, is a true delight in a brief scene with the gruff Touchstone.
But my favorite moment of the show was, no doubt, when Eric Umali in full Macho Man regalia, comes to the ring to wrestle Orlando as Charles, the Duke’s champion. Umali also leads the rock band on guitars and vocals, but do yourself a favor and come see the wrestling match. From the moves, to the ring, to the custom labeled “Everlast” inspired attire, the show brings the fun and merriment back to Shakespeare in a way a production never has for me. I imagine this is the tone Shakespeare’s shows would have taken back in the days of performing in pubs, and for the peasant groundlings.
The setting and staging is rather simple, as was the case for most of Shakespeare shows. Many of Shakespeare's shows were famously bare of sets. It was a time before “show, don’t tell” became the norm because frankly, showing is expensive. In this production the staging is unique and fun, people become the wrestling ring, poetry becomes the forest, and the costumes are seemingly torn directly from some thrift store who has been wondering “what will I ever do with all this neon, leg warmers.” All this adds to the charm, and forces the show to stand on the merit of the acting (which it does.) We already know the writing is good. Even most of the ad-libs are good. (Note: Ad-libbing in Shakespeare can be very dangerous, but I think the overall tone of the show suits itself for some fun moments.) The cast, for the most part, finds those moments and doesn’t overstep the script just for the sake of a joke.
In the program there is a director’s note to the audience where Wathall states his dislike of “Museum” Shakespeare, out of touch with the audience and constantly over analyzed. This is definitely not one of those experiences. When I was outside at intermission I overheard someone say “I usually never understand Shakespeare, but this show is so much fun.” And I’d have to agree. Go see it, even if you “Hate Shakespeare” I think you may just change your mind.