Ladies and gentlemen, please lend me your ears so I might regale you with the events and occurrences of Opening Night of W. Shakespeare’s “As You Like It”, directed by Shannon Kisch.
First off, let me say that I will try to be unbiased about this as I can, but that’s just a little difficult. You know how it is.
I arrived at the Merkaz nice and early so as to get a good seat. I ended up sitting with a friend who has interned at the Merkaz in the theater during some productions, so it was a nice break for both of us to be completely uninvolved and to sit back and enjoy the show. We took two seats in the front row center, right at the foot of the stage stairs which provided a beautiful view that filled my entire field of view.
Where to start? Wow. The entire set seems fairly spare to start out with, however considering the size of the cast and that in days of old the sets themselves were pretty empty, it was both appropriate and not cluttered with superfluous items.
Using the ceiling for a sky-blue puffy look, and a black background with innocuous hooks hanging down as hangers with various props on them, set the scene for everything else.
Stage right hosts a couple of low platforms, with some tree trunks extending from the base to the ceiling, with a beautiful hanging sign of “As You Like It”, cut out and in deep brown colors. Stage left has an impressive padded bench, and more trees behind it. And in the center, a small stool, as you would find in a garden surrounded by gnomes. The center stage exit is surrounded by golden leaves, lending a certain “archway” quality to it.
These pieces never really move, however as the show proceeds, parts of it change just a bit and suddenly make all the difference. Added to these are what look like four brown umbrellas in wooden stands, that look a lot like small bushes or trees, also brushed brown and golden.
I don’t want to give away anything that might spoil your own enjoyment of the show, but suffice it to say that all colors of autumn are utilized, and put to use at that. The creative use of uncommon items to add to the atmosphere, and the actors themselves “unfolding” the set is quite breathtaking.
Surprisingly refreshing! The men are all basically garbed in dark slacks and a tan-shade short. The women are in reverse, wearing black tops and tan skirts. As they enter, they all look like a solid performance group, and roam around the stage to their own music, as they find their apparel on the stage and robe themselves in the various accoutrements that are hanging around on stage. The look is full of color, flashy yet not too gaudy. Changing the placement of a cape will give an actor a new look, and they use that to emphasize a different character being portrayed. Some characters are simple and unadorned, some only need a hanky or a flaring skirt to hold your focus. Others have more elaborate costuming, but nothing beyond what is on stage to begin with. All in all, beautiful with a casual look.
The characters and the actors who play them:
The cast is comprised of 14 actors, and about 21 characters. It’s quite fun to see the actors you just saw appear as new characters. Those that make the change, do so with such alarming accuracy, that it is sometimes easy to forget another character is being played by the same actor. There is one character change done completely visible to the audience in dimmed lights, as if to show us, “Yes, we know that this is the same actor. He’s someone else now. Deal with it.” The amazing versatility of each and every one of them at showing us something they may or may not have in their inherent personality, but making us believe that they are who they say they are.
Finally, the show:
Needless to say, I liked it. This show started on a high note, literally. Singing! Music! Dancing elephants! Well, no dancing elephants, but the opening was powerful, and it only proceeded on a wild fantastical journey from that moment on. Instead of a single person “stealing the show”, it felt like about six of the characters were stealing the show when they had the chance, and then somebody else would come along and steal it right back.
The court jester, the banished duke’s daughter, the young lovers, and everyone else – they all have their spot and moment, and they do make the most of it.
The show has its twists and turns, quips and quibbles, and takes you on a journey somewhere where the trees are covered in red and yellow, somewhere that love is ever-abounding, although not always returned or recognized as such, somewhere utterly wonderful to visit, and to want to return to again someday soon.
Shakespeare’s humor, which has not always been translated to modern age theater that well, combined with the guidance and production skills of a brilliant director makes this far beyond a dusty, old manuscript written in a time that is no longer. If he were alive today, I really do wonder what W.S’s response would be, and if it would be along the lines of this writer’s.
Actually, I am sure it would be. How could it be otherwise?
For those that missed it first time around:
This part was blown up for ease on the eyes.