As You Like It is much more than just likeable
AS YOU LIKE IT
By William Shakespeare.
The Shakespeare Ensemble at MIT.
Directed by Kermit Dunkelberg.
Starring Christopher A. Crowley G, Maria Cheryl S. Casquejo '91, and Greg Swieringa '91.
La Sala de Puerto Rico.
Oct. 18-21 and 25-27.
By KEVIN FRISCH
WHEN REVIEWING A PLAY, one must consider both how the playwright and the players affect the performance. Often it is quite a tricky thing to know which is responsible for various elements of the play. But if the playwright happens to be Shakespeare, things are somewhat simplified, for it can then be assumed that the script is close to perfect, leaving the cast to bear responsibility for any deviations from a flawless performance.
This is perhaps the greatest challenge of performing Shakespeare -- not so much the language or the other details so often complained about -- but of realizing all of the vast potential of the script. The Shakespeare Ensemble at MIT, in their production of As You Like It, came as close to this as I have seen since the British television production of King Lear.
In the comedy, Orlando (Greg Swieringa '91) flees into the forest to save his life, but not before he wins the heart of Rosalind (Maria Cheryl S. Casquejo '91). Rosalind soon follows into the forest, disguised as a man, to find her love. With her, she takes Celia (Deborah Wells '92) and the clown, Touchstone (Christopher A. Crowley G). In the forest there is already a banished duke and a bunch of lords, all living "like the old Robin Hood of England." Once in the woods, everyone runs into everyone else, resulting in a plethora of people falling in love with each other, along with occasional bursts of merry songs.
Usually, when reviewing a play, I scribble down various notes to myself. So, as the lights dimmed for the opening night of As You Like It, I was all prepared, with pad and pen in hand. But as the play unfolded, I found I had no desire to write anything down, not because I didn't have anything to say, but rather because I was unable to resist the growing temptation to become absorbed in the play.
Almost all of the actors and actresses put on worthy performances, but there were a few who were exceptional by any standard. Crowley, as the defecting court clown, skillfully used a myriad of facial expressions and excellent body language, constantly poking fun at -- and occasionally outright mocking -- almost every character he came into contact with. He managed to be funny, with almost slapstick performance; at the same, he managed to keep his character from appearing to be a mere goofball. Rather, he subtly showed that he possessed more insight than one would have expected.
Casquejo also gave a marvelous performance, as she easily shifted roles from Lady Rosalind, daughter of a Duke, to a woman disguised as a man native to the forest, to matchmaker and advise-giver, and finally to Rosalind in love. Much like Crowley, Casquejo did not overplay the part, but rather worked with her lines, appearing to be truly distraught over the possible loss of her love, but working hard to hide it -- and her true identity -- from those around her.
Another fine performer was Brecht Isbell '91, who, with only a small part, seemed exceptionally comfortable and natural on stage, especially as he was flexing his muscles at the audience in preparation for the wresting match. Deborah Wells '92, also had a nice presence, as she mostly stood by, very at home on stage, her character entertained by the lovestruck Rosalind.
Jennifer L. Duncan '91, playing "a melancholy Lord" in the forest, was able to really bring down the mood of the play every time she walked on stage. This is a credit not only to the manner of the delivery of her lines, but also to her drooped shoulders and sluggish trudge on and off the set. Lindasusan Ulrich '91 rounded out the performance nicely with her frequent songs, and wonderful portrayal of Hymen, the god of marriage, at the end of the play.
Director Kermit Dunkelberg should also be commended for preventing the actors from doing pointless things on stage when they had no lines. Often directors seem to have a need for the actors to always be doing something on stage when they are not speaking. This appears foolish at best and can become so bad as to be quite distracting. Dunkelberg achieves and holds a balance of natural acting throughout the play, with each player's action having some sort of purpose.
Other smaller things also contributed to the success of the play. The program showed good planning by having an additional page of "director's notes" which gave a brief overview of the the play, a little vocabulary lesson, and some other interesting tidbits about the play. This was useful, giving the audience a head start on a play that some might otherwise have found a little confusing. There were even some "special effects," like leaves suddenly adorning previously bare trees, and a moon projected onto the backdrop, appearing to indicate the nighttime scene. The small orchestra which merrily played on occasion was also quite pleasant.
Overall, the MIT Shakespeare Ensemble's production of As You Like It is a well-acted, well-directed, highly entertaining play -- an excellent use for a $5 bill.