Andrew Hamm: the Bipolar Express

Ruminations on theatre, music, and just about anything else that crosses my bipolar brain.

Friday, July 04, 2008

Times-Dispatch: "You'll Like It"

From the Richmond Times-Dispatch:

The Shakespeare play at Agecroft--you'll like it


Midsummer may be nearing, but the peak of the summer theater season at Agecroft Hall has just arrived.

In the lovely Tudor courtyard, Richmond Shakespeare Festival's reprise of "As You Like It" is a laugh-filled, updated take on the Bard's comedy.

It's a reprise in two ways: The company opened with this play 11 years ago, and it did a rollicking five-actor version this past spring. Those five actors have returned in this production, along with director Andrew Hamm. Nine additional merrymakers join them to create a show that is full of contemporary style and plays hard for every laugh.

Yet with all the liberties taken, Master of Verse Julie Phillips keeps a steady hand on the language, which she tunes to a lovely, understandable vernacular that loses none of its poetry.

Hamm, for his part, contributes pleasant musical accompaniment, plays the two-line role of Hymen, and infuses the proceedings with all the subtlety of a Judd Apatow film. There's a strong physical component, whether comedy or combat (or spitting), and an especially clever use of upstage plays-within-the-play that enact some of the major speeches while they are delivered.

The story has two pairs of embittered brothers, one pair of faithful cousins, a clown, a melancholy thinker, a wrestler, servants and shepherds, and a trip through the Forest of Arden, where lovers find each other and things come to a happy end.

In lovely Rebecca Cairns costumes, and with well-designed lighting by James David White (who illuminates the outdoor space with seeming effortlessness), the simple set is enriched by humans playing trees, and the cast is augmented by stuffed animals. (It was hard to ignore the lively chipmunk in one of the trees.)

All the performances are delightful, although Adam Minks' Le Beau could have been reined in a tad -- but his Touchstone is hilarious and just this side of outrageous.

Sunny LaRose is the gender-switching Rosalind and Patrick Bromley her adoring Orlando; they are both a treat to watch, as is Julia Rigby as Rosalind's loyal cousin Celia.

Danny Devlin is an engaging Oliver, Orlando's cruel older brother, and Jeffry Clevenger is endearing as the old servant Adam and amusing as the shepherd Corin. Michael Dunn and Dan Summey make regal dukes, and Liz Blake is riotous as the adoring shepherdess Phebe. In smaller roles, Jay Banks and Jennifer Vick make pleasing debuts, and Jake Allard steals focus and hearts as the lovesick shepherd Silvius.

Frank Creasy gives the most impressive performance in two roles. As Charles the wrestler, he goes all-out physically, with pro-wrestling costume and attitude; and as Jacques, the melancholy courtier, he goes all-out emotionally, describing the seven phases of life and musing that "all the world's a stage." If the world were indeed a stage, I would be pleased to see Creasy on it.

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