Saturday, May 28, 2005

As You Like It

For twenty years now, Davis residents have been able to pack up their folding chairs on a warm spring evening and head to the Pence Gallery stage to watch the young actors of Acme Theatre Company present a well-rehearsed, polished, fully professional show. For free.

Shakespeare’s “As You Like It,” which opened on Friday night, is no exception. It would be hard to find a “weakest link.” While there are outstanding performances, the cast is uniformly excellent and it seems as if great care has been lavished on every aspect, from costuming to hair styles, to choreography, to the original music written (and performed) by Jessica Kitchens.

If there were to be any complaint it would be that the stage shares the air with train noises and the sound of the nearby air conditioner and cleanup at the garbage cans of Soga’s, which made it difficult to understand much of the dialog in Act 1, at least from the back of the arena, though the mics on the stage certain make a big difference over previous un-amplified years.

Director Dave Burmester, who likes to keep things fresh and new chose to set this production in 1803 in Alta, California, so the simple set reflected the adobe of a hacienda. The show opened (and closed) with the cast doing a flamenco or a tango, in the brightly colored costumes one might find at a Mexican fiesta. The choreography by Zoe Nutter and costumes loaned by the Davis Senior High School Ballet Folklorico (coordinated by costumer Emily Henderson) effectively created the proper mood from the start.

Burmester explains that “As You Like It” is a play about love: physical and intellectual love, sentimental and cynical love, love at first sight, love between friends, love between relatives, imagined love, and deep, lasting love. It is the roles we are often forced to play, either by circumstance or by societal pressure.

This joyous play concerns the lovely Rosalind's instant attraction to Orlando and their subsequent journey of love and confusion. Don Senior is living in exile in the forest while his sister, Dona Eleanora has usurped his dominions. Don Senior's daughter Rosalind is banished from Eleanora's court and travels to the forest in the company of her cousin Celia. Rosalind assumes a countryman's dress and takes the name Ganymede; Celia passes as Aliena, Ganymede's sister and they meet with Orlando who has joined the banished duke. Ganymede encourages Orlando to pretend to make love to her as though she were his Rosalind.

Eleanor van Hest’s Rosalind is a delight. She is a strong woman in total control of the stage. She and Catherine Curley, as her cousin Celia, light up the stage from their first entrance and they hold it firmly throughout the play.

Ben Pearl as Orlando was difficult to hear over the early night noises, but his performance was a solid one and he makes a dashing Orlando.

Emily Henderson plays both the haughty Dona Eleanora and the earthy sheperdess Corina with equal competence.

Chris Liaghat-Schmidt as the clown, Touchstone, who accompanies Rosalind and Celia into exile is delightfully droll and an outstanding performance of the evening, as is Zoe Nutter, in a gender-bending role of Jacques, the dour compatriot of Don Senior.

Jake Stoebel does double duty as Oliver, brother of Orlando, and Padre Diego, a drunken priest. Others in the cast playing dual rules include Steven Schmidt, who plays Carlos the wrestler in Act 1 and Don Senior in Act 2. The wrestling match between Carlos and Orlando was beautifully choreographed, and included a spectacular flip-over.

Alaina Boys was Senora La Bonita, in Act 1 and Audry, a country wench who catches the eye of Touchstone in Act 2. Nick Herbert was a courtier in Act 1, Luis, a compatriot of Don Senior and the delightfully lovestruck Silvius, who has lost his heart to Phoebe, played with wonderful humor by Caleigh Drane (who is also a courtier in Act 1). David Markman also carries three roles, as Dennis in Act 1 and both Juan, a compatriot of Don Senior, and Joaquin, another brother of Orlando, in Act 2. Dylan Myles-Primakoff is the servant Adam in Act 1 and William, a rustic, in Act 2.

Burmester has directed a lively production which keeps the audience entertained at all times, throwing in bits of swordplay, thanks to help by Simon Pitfield of the Davis Fencing Academy.

“As You Like It” is the perfect way to spend a spring evening. Bring your chairs or a blanket to sit on the lawn, bring the kids, bring a picnic and expect to spend a delightful evening.

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