There are not many human relationships that stay untouched in William Shakespeare’s “As You Like It,” which opened a two-weekend run Friday evening in South Bend Civic Theatre’s Warner Studio Theatre.
The comedy, penned in 1598, is filled with characters and situations not unlike those experienced by couples of all ages, shapes, and genders today. Its arboreal setting, here in the Forest of Arden, allows for placement of the action, which ranges from physical to quietly romantic, in a variety of locations.
The one chosen for this production by director Grace Lazarz, is detailed by set designer Jeff Barrick’s spring-like carpet of stenciled leaves. Changes of place are denoted by changing the several crates which served as rocks, chairs, tables and anything else required, including a wrestling ring.
As in many of Shakespeare plays, especially the comedies, the relationships are tangled and not easily unwound. There is the heroine, Rosalind (Karen Dickerson), who takes to the forest after being banished by her uncle, Duke Frederick (Marybeth Saunders), who stole his dukedom from her father, his older brother Duke Senior (Bill Swenson), who has fled to the forest.
Tochstone (Cecil Eastman, left) plays his gui tar to accompany Celia (Laura Schmit) in the South Bend Civic Theater production of AS YOU LIKE IT.
Rosalind is accompanied by her cousin Celia, (Laura Schmidt) and both adopt different identities, Celia as Aliena, a poor young lady, and Rosalind as Ganymede, a young gentleman. With them is the court fool, Touchstone (Cecil Eastman), complete with sequined vest and acoustic guitar.
In Duke Senior’s party is Jaques (Sarah Myers), who is trusted with one of Shakespeare’s most famous speeches, best known as “The Seven Stages of Man.”
In the forest, Rosalind (as Ganymede) meets Orlando (Dylan Connor). who has been forced out of his home by his brother Oliver (Joe B. Russo). Orlando, who joins Duke Senior’s company, falls instantly in love with Ganymede.
Around the mis-matched couples are a variety of shepherds (and one scene-stealing sheep) and peasants, all prone to dancing and singing at the twang of Touchstone’s guitar. Indeed, the ensemble communicated enthusiastically with the audience, which responded in kind.
With the exception of the principal players, each actor created two characters, excepting Tyler Curtis who went from wrestler to gentleman with another stop between. The company was a mix of new and familiar faces.
Dickerson and Schmidt deliver honest performances as cousins who fall in love but from different aspects. Each is making her SBCT debut. Their eventual romantic partners, Conner and Russo (as Oliver), also are first-timers on the SBCT stage. They handle their characters well and deliver solid performances.
With his light-hearted songs and strumming, Eastman was an audience favorite throughout and obviously enjoyed his “music master” assignment. Also a favorite was SBCT veteran Bill Svelmoe who grazed from dukedom to pasture with royal ease although not a genuine “Shakespearean sheep.”
The costuming was primarily in basic black, which did little to brighten the proceedings. That was handled early on, however, by some really fast-paced and almost too-close for comfort wrestling by Connor and Curtis. Applause to the fighters and to fight choreographer Brent Wick who made it loo oh-so-real! (Note: No one was hurt in the performance of this scene!)
With the sharp work of the cast (and some judicious adapting with Scott Jackson), director Lazarz kept the running time to about two hours, including intermission. Definitely a feat when dealing with Shakespeare!
“AS YOU LIKE IT” will be presented Wednesday through Sunday in the Barbara K. Warner Studio Theatre, 403 N. Main St., South Bend, For performance times and reservations, call (574) 234-1112.