Tuesday, September 8, 2009

As You Like It ...or not: San Jose Rep Review

Warning: this is a long review of the San Jose Rep's new play. Feel free to skip over if theatrical criticism is not your thing.

DH and I saw the opening night of the San Jose Rep's production of Shakespeare's As You Like It. If, like me, you are less familiar with this comedy, here is a link to the wikipedia page on Shakespeare's play.

The Plot:
This is another one of the Bard's cross-dressing female plays, where you find the male romantic lead talking to his lover unknowingly, as she is dressed as a man and pretends to "cure" him of his ailment of being in love...with herself. There are also some anti-fraternal themes, where 2 sets of brothers try to kill or banish each other from court.

The Setting:
I actually liked the large screens used as the backdrop. When I read other reviews beforehand, I was a little uneasy about the modern day setting. I am somewhat of a purist, and prefer my Shakespeare set in the times they were written. However, the use of the videos for both setting the immediate location of a scene (wrestling in a WWF-style arena, orchard, forest), as well as for setting mood and shifting through seasons, worked for me. The screens added to the imagery and set mood, time and place very well.

The Staging:
Excellent! The best part was when James Carpenter, playing long-winded forest poet Jacques, delivers the famous, "All the World's a Stage...one man in his time plays many parts, His acts being seven ages..." As he recounts the ages, from "infant, mewling and puking" to schoolboy, lover, soldier, justice, pantaloon, he is disrobing on stage, until finally discarding his long haired wig for "second childishness"... instantly transforming into Old Adam, the aging servant that followed Orlando into the forest. He starts to fall to the stage, to be caught by Orlando and brought to the banished Duke for succor. VERY dramatic, and well done!

I also liked the World Wrestling Federation treatment of Orlando's wrestling match with Charles, and the establishing of the usurper Duke Frederick as an underworld crime boss.

The Great Depression era staging of the outcasts in the forest didn't really work for me. I get that modernizing the setting for Shakespeare can refresh the story, or give it new perspective. However, I found the juxtaposition of modern day WWF with video cameras, cell phones, with "Grapes of Wrath" style Joads moving West to be too disconcerting. I would prefer they pick A time period, and stick with it. Maybe I missed the time machine somewhere...

The Music:
Sepidah Moafi sang beautifully--it is easy to see how she got her part.

The Costumes:
Well...OK, I didn't love every aspect of the show. I love costumes, and miss our San Jose Ballet subscriptions this year in large part due to the costumes. I am sure my bias toward unadulterated Shakespeare is owed to this, since costumes from centuries ago are more interesting to me than modern dress.

I spent most of the play hating the costumes worn by the two female leads.  Rosalind is dressed like Annie Hall, and Celia wears a lovely...prom dress. These both clash with the modern urban setting. The only time period where these outfits would make sense is a 1970's high school prom with Rosalind as a chaperone, and Celia as the debutante. Ick.

There were some scenes with attire that worked well: Duke Frederick as crime boss, and the WWF style wrestling contest, are some examples. Jacques' long leather coat is a nice touch, too--gives him a depressive poet's look, reminiscent of Neil Gaiman's Sandman character, or Neo from The Matrix. Phebe's costume was pretty interesting too...unique, which suits her character's quirks.

The Acting:
Actors--AMAZING! Special Standout performance by Cristi Miles as Celia, the cousin/bosom friend of the protagonist. Her impassioned speeches about love, and devotion could have brought tears to the eye, as we would hope to have a friend as devoted in our own lives.

Anna Bullard, as Rosalind, delivered her usual top-notch performance. Unfortunately, Rosalind, although the main character, just does not have as much angst or emotional meat to dig into. Her best speech is when she is being banished, and that is done with early on.

James Carpenter's delivery of 7 parts speech above was delicious--the frosting on the whole rest of his performance.

Seeing Adam Yazbeck as Oliver (Orlando's oppressive and abusive brother) and Craig Marker as Charles gave me the shivers. We had previously seen them as the malefactors in Kite Runner and The Foreigner respectively. It was like watching a reunion of the Brotherhood of Evil onstage, as they plotted Orlando's "accidental" death in the wrestling ring. I had trouble accepting Adam Yazbeck playing one of the background parts later in the play...he has too unique a face to blend into a mostly Euro-Caucasian crowd. Craig transformed into Silvius more easily.

Blake Ellis did a good job with Orlando, which character suffers similarly to Rosalind. The great emotional drama with his brother happens at the beginning of the play, and then tapers off into a light romantic comedy. He pulled both parts off well, but the more interesting bits with his brother were at the beginning.

Steve Irish as Touchstone was marvelous--funny, occasionally wise, and always entertaining. Sometimes just his facial reaction to the circumstances on the stage could make the scene.

Andy Murray, Jeanette Penley, Alexander Prather, and Jonathan Shue filled out the cast nicely, creating interesting and entertaining characters when they were onstage.

Other experiences:
We were surprised to learn that Opening Night has special perks: a reception after the play, and a chance to mingle with the stars. We unfortunately had limited babysitting, so we had to rush out to pick up our kids--though we did snag some cookies on the way out the door.

They are advertising "Join us after the show" for several other performances this month--allow enough babysitting time!

Another great innovation from the San Jose Rep: Pay What You Will Tuesdays--a preview of each show, with suggested ticket price of $10 each--but they will accept any amount! What a generous act, enabling everyone in Silicon Valley to enjoy quality theater, regardless of employment.

Overall Rating:
4 out of 5 stars, I recommend the play--we really enjoyed it, and the performances were excellent. I wouldn't rank this as a favorite of Shakespeare's plays, but it definitely had great parts in it.

1 comment:

  1. I'd agree with just about everything you wrote. Overall, I think it was perhaps a bit too frenetic for me, with the various frills imposed by the director. But the individual performances--particularly the actor changing his very character, age, appearance, etc., while giving the 7 ages of man soliloquy--the actors' work was astonishing.


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