Although rough around the edges, Raleigh Little Theatre’s current presentation of As You Like It, another masterpiece of romantic comedy by English dramatist William Shakespeare (1564-1616), is nevertheless entertaining. Brisk and imaginative staging by guest director Carmen-maria Mandley and chipper comic characterizations by a number of local community-theater veterans make RLT’s first outdoor Shakespeare production sparkle.
As You Like It is another uproarious Shakespearean romp in the country by courtiers peremptorily banished from the dukedom of the temperamental tyrant Duke Frederick (Matt Schedler), who usurped his brother’s throne. Exiled to the Forest of Arden, where the rightful Duke Senior (Megan Day) holds court, Robin-Hood-style, victims of courtly intrigues, such as Orlando (Scott Nagel) and Rosalind (Heather J. Hackford), find respite and romance — in a veritable pastoral paradise peopled by an amusing assortment of rustics, such as the lovelorn shepherd Sylvius (Jarrod Swart) and the disdainful object of his affections Phebe (Claire Wagner).
Scott Nagel is sweet as poor lovesick Orlando, cheated out of his rightful inheritance by his avaricious older brother Oliver (Brendan Putz) and forced to flee the court because Duke Frederick has taken a strong dislike to him. Having fallen in love with Rosalind literally at first sight, Orlando loves her so much that he writes poem after poem extolling her virtues. In exile, he papers the very trees of the Forest of Arden with these love poems.
Meanwhile, Duke Frederick belatedly banishes Rosalind, who is the daughter of Duke Senior and the best friend to his own daughter Celia (Sarah Bousquet-Howard). Celia follows Rosalind into the woods, where for safety’s sake Rosalind disguises herself as a man. When reunited with Orlando, Rosalind in manly disguise offers to cure him of his infatuation — if he will come to her daily for instruction.
Heather Hackford is a delight as Rosalind, especially when she toys with Orlando while barely suppressing her own feelings; and Sarah Bousquet-Howard is cute as Celia. Jarrod Swart and Claire Wagner are entertaining as the mismatched Sylvius and Phebe; David Klionsky provides comic relief as Touchstone the court jester; and Katie Anderson is a pip as the goatherd Audrey, the snaggle-toothed object of Touchstone’s affections.
Megan Day sings superbly and doubles delightfully as the refined Duke Senior and the rough Charles the Wrestler, Alex Davis is funny as the vulgar (self-flagellating) vicar Sir Oliver Martext, and Harvey Sage is charming as Corin. But Tim Cherry’s painful sighs and amusing antics as the melancholy Jaques steal the show.
Director Carmen-maria Mandley stages As You Like It with brio, and gets a sizable assist from fight choreographer Jeff A.R. Jones. Costume designer Sue Brace outfits the cast in an impressive array of ersatz English Renaissance fashions; and scenic designer Rick Young discovers a nifty system for differentiating the play’s many locations at court and in the forest by use of banners and spinners and green cutouts in the shape of trees — all on poles that can be rotated, added, or removed during scene changes.
Lighting and sound designer Roger Bridges skillfully illuminates the action all across the sprawling set, and RLT artistic director Haskell Fitz-Simons composed a number of sprightly melodies for the songs of As You Like It — tunes that add a nice grace note to this production.
Raleigh Little Theatre presents As You Like It Friday-Sunday, May 19-21, at 8 p.m. in RLT’s Louise “Scottie” Stephenson Amphitheatre, 301 Pogue St., Raleigh, North Carolina. $15 ($12 students and seniors). 919/821-3111 or via etix at RLT's site. Note 1: Shuttle parking will be available. Note 2: The RLT parking-lot gates and concessions will open at 7 p.m. Soft drinks, beer and wine, hot dogs, hamburgers, barbeque, popcorn, and snacks will be sold at the parking-lot concession stands. Note 3: All performances are wheelchair accessible, and there will be an audio described performance May 19th. Note 4: No pets will be allowed in the amphitheatre. Raleigh Little Theatre: http://www.raleighlittletheatre.org/asyoulikeit.htm [inactive 4/06]. Shakespeare Resources (courtesy University of Virginia): http://etext.lib.virginia.edu/shakespeare/ [inactive 3/10]. E-Text (courtesy UVa): http://etext.lib.virginia.edu/toc/modeng/public/ShaAYLF.html (1623 First Folio Edition) and http://etext.lib.virginia.edu/toc/modeng/public/MobAsYo.html (1866 Globe Edition).
Raleigh Little Theatre will present As You Like It, RLT’s first outdoor production of a work by Elizabethan and Jacobean dramatist William Shakespeare (1564-1616), May 13-15 and 19-21 in RLT’s Louise “Scottie” Stephenson Amphitheatre. Local freelance director Carmen-maria Mandley will guest-direct this rib-tickling romantic comedy.
“I’ve been heavily involved in the world of Shakespeare since I was 17,” says Mandley. In the past 15 years, she has directed a number of Shakespearean shows for Shakespeare & Co. of Lenox, Mass., plus a staged reading of Coriolanus and a full production of Much Ado About Nothing (both 2001) for Raleigh-based Bare Theatre, which she and Heather J. Hackford founded four years ago. (Mandley is artistic director and Hackford is managing director of Bare Theatre, which will perform Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus July 27-31 at the Common Ground Theatre in Durham.)
A critically acclaimed actress, director, playwright, poet, visual artist, and teacher, Mandley is now a freelance director, specializing in Shakespeare. She previously worked at RLT, where she directed a number of RLT Storytellers productions of the works of the Immortal Bard of Avon.
Carmen-maria Mandley says, “As You Like It is a play that I really wanted to direct outdoors. I’ve directed it indoors, but I haven’t directed it outdoors. It presents some really fun and wild challenges, and I really love it.”
She adds, “I wanted to direct As You Like It at Raleigh Little Theatre because I love the idea of community-theater in general. I love that idea that anybody off the street can come to the theater and say, ‘I want to play Orlando,’ ‘I want to play Rosalind,’ or ‘I want to play Touchstone.’” She previously directed RLT Storytellers productions of Henry V and Macbeth in the amphitheatre.
“As You Like It turns the standard ‘girl meets boy, girl loses boy, girl gets boy’ formula on its head,” Mandley claims. “After meeting and falling in love with the courageous Orlando [Scott Nagel] at Duke Frederick’s court, young Rosalind [Heather Hackford] immediately loses him when she is banished by the Duke [Matt Schedler]. Disguised as a shepherd boy, Rosalind flees to the Forest of Arden with her cousin Celia [Sarah Bousquet-Howard]. There, ‘boy meets boy’ as Rosalind (in her new attire) once again stumbles upon the now equally lovesick Orlando. Getting to ‘girl gets boy’ by the end of the show is a high-spirited adventure, filled with song, fights, dance, and many fools. This earthy tale of love and mistaken identity is an enchantment for both actors and audiences alike.”
First performed approximately 1599-1600 and first published in the First Folio of 1623, As You Like It is jointly set in the court of the usurper Duke Frederick and in the Forest of Arden, where the rightful duke (a.k.a. Duke Senior [Megan Day]), grouchy Lord Jaques (Timothy Cherry), and the Duke’s followers are living.
In addition to the actors named above, the RLT cast also includes Harvey Sage as Corin, Claire Wagner as Phebe, and David Klionsky as Touchstone.
Besides director Carmen-maria Mandley, the show’s production team includes scenic designer Rick Young, lighting designer Roger Bridges, costume designer Sue Brace, fight choreographer Jeff A.R. Jones, and composer Haskell Fitz-Simons. RLT’s long-time artistic director, Fitz-Simons has set Shakespeare’s sprightly songs to music.
“There’s more songs in this play than in any other Shakespeare play,” Mandley notes, “and we kept all of them. It sometimes feels like a rock concert. We’ve got three guitars and a flute and a drum.” She adds, “The music is actually more folksy than it is rocky, but it is all original.”
Staging Shakespeare out of doors creates considerable creative challenges to the RLT production team. Mandley says the Number One challenge this time of year is the weather.
Moreover, she adds, “Our Number One weather challenge lately is that it has been very cold…. Sometimes we’ve been rehearsing in 35-degree weather, and sometimes we’ve been rehearsing in the rain. There are 26 people in the cast, and we aren’t using body mics. We’re using their voices and perimeter mics on the stage. That’s it.”
Mandley says, “The other [major] challenge for me is having to have a set that is as large as the space, and filling that space. But it’s all worth it, because when [the show] comes together and it works, it works really well.”
Carmen-maria Mandley says, scenic designer Rick Young’s set “is a series of platforms, huge trees, a wide-open space that changes for every scene. Mostly, we rely on the actors to fill the space with the text — more than we rely on huge set pieces,” she explains.
Mandley notes, “the lighting is always a challenge in this space. Roger Bridges lights all of the actors beautifully,” she adds, “and there are some lighting surprises. Roger does a wonderful job of getting the space lit.”
She says the show’s Renaissance costumes will also enhance the production. “Because I direct very physically,” Mandley says, “everything had to be made to hold up against very physical direction. Sue Brace has costumed the show beautifully.”
Like many contemporary directors, Mandley has abridged Shakespeare’s original five-act version of As You Like It for the modern audience. “Our cut is a solid two-hour-and-10-minute run without an intermission,” she explains. “Every cut I’ve made is internal; we’ve kept intact all of the storylines, and I’ve tried to maintain the integrity of the text.”
Mandley adds, “As You Like It is a really physically dynamic show. We have a group of people who really wear the words well. They have a great joy about doing this play. They’re excited about doing it … and we really can’t wait for an audience. We’re ready.
“I’m really proud of Raleigh Little Theatre for taking this chance by taking Shakespeare outside and doing it in the amphitheatre,” says Mandley. She adds, “It’s risky, but it’s time to do something like this, to do something that’s as large as this. I think Raleigh Little Theatre is the theater to do it. I couldn’t ask for a better team to work with all the way around.”
Raleigh Little Theatre presents As You Like It Friday-Sunday, May 13-15, at 8 p.m. and Thursday-Saturday, May 19-21, at 8 p.m. in RLT’s Louise “Scottie” Stephenson Amphitheatre, 301 Pogue St., Raleigh, North Carolina. $15 ($12 students and seniors). 919/821-3111 or via etix at RLT's site. Note 1: Shuttle parking will be available. Note 2: The RLT parking-lot gates and concessions will open at 7 p.m. Soft drinks, beer and wine, hot dogs, hamburgers, barbeque, popcorn, and snacks will be sold at the parking-lot concession stands. Note 3: All performances are wheelchair accessible, and there will be an audio described performance May 19th. Note 4: No pets will be allowed in the amphitheatre. Raleigh Little Theatre: http://www.raleighlittletheatre.org/asyoulikeit.htm [inactive 4/06]. Shakespeare Resources (courtesy University of Virginia): http://etext.lib.virginia.edu/shakespeare/ [inactive 3/10]. E-Text (courtesy UVa): http://etext.lib.virginia.edu/toc/modeng/public/ShaAYLF.html (1623 First Folio Edition) and http://etext.lib.virginia.edu/toc/modeng/public/MobAsYo.html (1866 Globe Edition).