April 18th, 2011
As You Like It: A Classical Theatre Company Production
There is a serious condition affecting millions of Americans every day. Does your tongue tie when someone mentions Macbeth? Do you suffer heart palpitations at the thought of reciting “thou” and “thy?” Do you respond to pop-culture Hamlet references with a mumble and a chin-to-chest reflex? If you suffer from any of these symptoms, you may have Shakespeare Anxiety Syndrome. My advice: take two doses of the Bard and call me in the morning.
The Classical Theatre Company has teamed up with the Prague Shakespeare Festival to bring two of Shakespeare’s most influential works to Houston audiences. As You Like It and King Lear feature multi-national casts under the direction of Prague Shakespeare Festival Artistic Director, Guy Roberts. Houston performances run through May 1st, before the production heads to Prague for engagements there. This marks the first collaboration between a European and a Houstonian theatre company with multi-national performances in over fifteen years.
The Classical Theatre Company was founded in 2006 and has been satisfying Houston’s need for a dedicated classical drama company ever since. Productions have included Moliere’s Tartuffe as well as ambitious adaptations such as one-man Hamlet (also a collaboration with PSF director Guy Roberts). CTC founder and artistic director John Johnston manages to present classical plays with a fresh, modern outlook that make them relatable and approachable.
Is that Shakespeare Anxiety kicking in yet? Relax. Breathe. As You Like It will make everything all better. One of Shakespeare’s most popular comedies, this play approaches the weighty subject of love with a sharp wit and a quick pace. The timelessness of the original text, coupled with the clever, modern styling of the Classical Theatre Company/Prague Shakespeare Festival production make for an altogether enjoyable experience.
The Forest of Arden is bursting with people banished by the vengeful Duke Fredrick. Rosalind and her cousin Celia have fled their lives at court, declaring “to liberty and not to banishment,” and taken up residence with sheep herders. There’s just one little catch. In an effort to remain undetected as the daughter of banished Duke Senior and to ensure safety while traveling, Rosalind has styled herself as a boy and adopted the name “Ganymede.” She encounters an amusing cast of pastoral characters in the forest, as well as her beloved Orlando, who has also been banished from court. Still disguised as a boy, Rosalind manages to nurture Orlando’s affections for “her” while simultaneously bringing together another happy couple. Total, there are four weddings in the final scenes of the play, as all secrets are revealed and clever love is triumphant.
Still with me? Good. The Classical Theatre Company/Prague Shakespeare Festival production of As You Like It is a perfect blend of the new with the old. From the first moments of the play, as all actors flurry onstage and sing an ABBA-inspired musical introduction to one of the main characters (There was something in the air that night, the stars were bright, Orlando), it’s clear that the stuffiness sometimes encountered in Shakespearean productions has been completely avoided. Modern references and musical interludes (provided by musician Ed Kliman) keep the play quick and full of laughs. Guy Robert’s direction is intuitive and sharp. His choices, such as leaving most of the actors onstage for the entirety of the play, provide multiple opportunities for humor, as well as helpful reference. For example, instead of merely trying to keep up with lengthy speeches regarding the exploits of characters (such as the ones admirably delivered by Vanessa Gendron as Le Beau), the audience is treated to demonstrations that serve to identify and solidify the individuals within the large cast of characters. These are the choices that allow an audience to stay focused on the action onstage, instead of squinting down at our programs and whispering “who’s that guy, again?”
Houston Shakespeare Festival veteran, Jessica Boone, portrays a perfect Rosalind, from the once pouty girl at court, to the sophisticated and clever woman who utilizes disguise and wit to guide her own destiny. Her beloved Orlando is presented as appropriately starry-eyed by Jonathan Perrein, a seasoned actor with multiple credits in Paris and London. French actress and director Fanette Ronjat not only gives us a clever, well-rounded interpretation of Celia, but also proves herself to be quite the fiddler. “All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women, merely players,” the most famous speech of the play, is delivered with touching sincerity by Pavel Kriz, a Czech television star who recently won the Czech version of “Dancing with the Stars.” The diversity and size of this cast make it impossible to give each individual the roaring praises that they so greatly deserve. It is a strong ensemble effort, with great cooperation and trust apparent as each actor is given a moment to shine and to make the audience smile.
Charming enhancements to the action onstage include musical references that range from “The Pink Panther Theme” to a Queen song, country girl Audrey (hilariously played by Lenka Fishernova) chowing down on a bucket of KFC, and priceless ad-libbed moments by actors who are perfectly relaxed onstage. And the sheep. Oh-ho-ho, did I forget to mention the pure comic relief inherent in seeing sophisticated classical actors bahhhh-ing around on all fours? These little touches make this production unintimidating, consistently funny, and a perfect experience for Shakespeare-lovers and Shakespeare-phobics, alike. Start with As You Like It, move on to King Lear, and gift yourself a double helping of quality Shakespeare that will clear up any anxieties in no time.
As You Like It and King Lear by William Shakespeare
Director: Guy Roberts, Artistic Director Prague Shakespeare Festival
Dates for As You Like It
Wednesday April 13, 2011 7:30pm
Thursday April 14, 2011 7:30pm
Friday April 15, 2011 7:30pm
Saturday April 16, 2011 7:30pm
Sunday April 17, 2011 2:30pm
Thursday April 28, 2011 7:30pm
Saturday April 30, 2011 7:30pm
Dates for King Lear
Thursday April 21, 2011 7:30pm
Friday April 22, 2011 7:30pm
Saturday April 23, 2011 7:30pm
Sunday April 24, 2011 2:30pm
Monday April 25, 2011 7:30pm
Friday April 29, 2011 7:30pm
Sunday May 1, 2011 2:30pm
Location: Main Street Theater – Chelsea Market Stage
4617 Montrose Blvd., Houston, TX 77006