HOT TAKE: Rogue Players' AS YOU LIKE IT
|Laura Ferland and Dustin Pazar as Rosalind and Orlando in As You Like It.|
Photo courtesy of Michael Piña.
The Rogue Players, directed by John DeBenedetto, took on Shakespeare's As You Like It in midtown Manhattan for the start of Spring. The company is founded on "a community of actors, writers, and artists of all different voices, perspectives and experiences," in order to present underrepresented classical work as well as new plays.
As You Like It is, in some ways, a tricky Shakespearean play to tackle. The humor is more lingual than physical, and largely based on obscure-to-modern-audiences references. While there are the Twelfth Night-ian shenanigans of cross-dressing, with a side of Midsummer's everyone-falling-in-love-in-a-forest, As You Like It tends towards wordplay more than pratfalls.
So how did the Rogue Players do?
With such a challenging text, there were several stand-outs among the cast. Emmy Kuperschmid gave an excellent Celia, dexterously dealing with her tangled metaphors and layered jokes, as well as balancing the role of sardonic best friend and - once Oliver arrives - eager ingenue. I'd love to see her Juliet, Rosalind, or any of Shakespeare's great heroines, as it's easy to suspect this actress has untapped acting depths. As Celia's love interest, Colin Colford as Oliver was suitably menacing in the first half of the play, but really shone once he was allowed to play the goofy love-struck hero.
Ryan Jacobucci, pulling double-duty as Charles and Silvius, absolutely reveled in his latter role, cheerfully and enthusiastically throwing himself into the character of lovelorn himbo. Joe Staton as LeBeau, Amiens, Corin and Jacques de Boys also showed promise in each of his appearances - especially making the most out of the latter role of Orlando and Oliver's long-lost brother.
Cormac Joyce as Duke Senior brought a playfulness and clarity to his work, that only made me wish he had more stage time. While Max Stein acquitted himself intelligently as the melancholy Jacques.
What Could Be Improved:
While it's always a laudable thing to bring together a community to tackle a literary classic, it also behooves a production - particularly in New York City, where every other week there's another excellent independent production playing of Shakespeare's work - to make sure that the whole cast and crew are up to snuff.
Unfortunately, it seems that the director had less care or interest in telling the story of As You Like It, than in encouraging his leads to take pratfalls, make dumb show rather than invest in dialogue, and be more concerned with "bits" than with clarity. As You Like It has the most tenuous of plots no matter the production - being more a series of vignettes of couples falling in and out of love - but either the director did not trust his actors or his audience to "get" the romances. Or perhaps he did not get the romances himself.
Similarly, the director allowed some of the actors - such as the otherwise formidable Lynnese Page as Duke Frederick - to make simple lingual mistakes (in this case, pronouncing the "-est" as a separate syllable at the end of words like "wouldst"). Or allowing Rosalind to stumble over "quotidian," or for several actors to pronounce "troth" differently. Such small mistakes are perfectly fine in rehearsal, but should have been smoothed out prior to performance.
The costume design - black, whites, and greys for the court, moving into color for the Forest of Arden - was solid. Although with a white backdrop for the court as well, the leads were lost against their own background in the first act. Dante Jayce acquitted himself well with his fight choreography, creating some truly clever moves for the wrestling match, although there was some confusion early on in the fight between brothers when one mentioned keeping his hand on the other's throat, but held his shoulder instead. The program credited puppeteer Kelsey LaSeure, who may have been responsible for the textile forest backdrop, upon which Orlando could actually pin his verses.
I was very pleased to see the talents of several Shakespearean actors who have not (yet) played some of the larger independent Shakespeare theatres. The opportunity to see new talent is always a good thing. The presentation of lesser produced Classics is also an inherent good. And it was clear from several of the laughs at Shakespeare's text, that his language still shines through and delights. Similarly, a company that values community is a noble purpose - and it's possible that Rogue Players' work on modern text (such as the upcoming On the edge of/a cure) will allow their company to shine in a way that obscure Elizabethan agriculture jokes did not.