Regional Reviews: Albuquerque/Santa Fe
As You Like It
As You Like It is an often-produced comedy and crowd pleaser that offers a pastoral setting, romantic young lovers, a despicable villain, a motley fool, buxom country girls, and Jacques, surely one of Shakespeare's more unique characters. It is the most musical of the plays and contains more than seven songs, including the familiar "Under the Greenwood Tree." The play is considered more audience accessible, with over half written in prose rather than blank verse. Rosalind, the protagonist, is a very likeable and forthright woman who speaks to today's modern audience.
Under the leadership of co-directors Patrick Briggs and Kelly Kiernan, the production emphasizes a light tone that celebrates humanity, nature, and the power of love. The original music composed by Sitara Schauer, Brian Nelson, and Bear Schacht contributes greatly to the airy and playful mood of the play. The set uses the permanent stepped, raised portico of the garden to advantage. The costumes by Cheryl Odom, while not altogether consistent, contain some hits, including Jacques' entire ensemble, and some misses, such as Hymen's ill-fitting Greek chiton. More care should have been taken with the wigs, hairdressing and make-up.
Mention should be made of the sheep in this production. Four young actors in black tights and sheepskin pouches flounce about the Forest of Arden. They act rather as a pastoral Greek chorus sometimes commenting on the action with a gesture or a well-timed "baa." They join in the musical numbers and the dancing. Where I initially found them whimsical and charming, they seemed to wear out their welcome, in some cases pulling focus from important action. It is an interesting experiment to use young actors and lighten the action, but it does not totally work.
The cast is led by the capable and charming Emily Rankin as Rosalind. She handles the language well and brings warmth to a role that can become strident in the wrong hands. She is artfully supported by Joey Beth Gilbert as Celia, Rosalind's stalwart cousin. Hania Stocker as the romantic swain Orlando is a believable diamond-in-the-rough suitor. I wish Orlando and Rosalind had had more opportunities to show the chemistry between them. Antonio Miniño as Jacques is delightfully melancholy and quirky and handles the "Seven Stages of Man" speech well. Hamilton Turner's Touchstone is not quite fully realized but still fun. Bear Schacht's singing is a definite asset of the production.
Miles Blitch makes a real change from Oliver the villain to Oliver the enlightened one at the end. John Shannon is similarly different as two characters, Duke Senior and Duke Frederick. Veteran actors Ken Bordner and Eric Devlin comport themselves well. Zoe Burke's posturing as Phebe is a bit over the top, and Hannah Machado is suitably vacuous as Audrey.
The standout star of the production is the setting, the venue, the Santa Fe Botanical Garden at Museum Hill. Audience members are invited to come early at 5:15 pm when the garden opens for pre-performance picnicsbring your own. The elevated setting on a clear, cool night was intoxicating with the smells of desert sage and roses wafting on the breeze. Care should be taken by the management for departing audience members; the garden is very dark and somewhat hazardous, especially for older patrons. Perhaps ushers could be provided with more robust flashlights.
Outdoor summer Shakespearian productions are a cultural asset for any community. SFCT and its founders are to be commended for launching this enterprise and utilizing this venue. It is a very pleasant evening in the theatre that does justice to the Bard's work.
As You Like It runs through August 22, 2021, Thursdays through Sundays at 6:45 pm at the Santa Fe Botanical Garden, Museum Hill, Santa Fe NM. Reserved tickets are $45 and $35. For reservations and information, please call 505-466-1358 or visit www.santafeclassictheater.org.
Co-Directed by Patrick Briggs and Kelly Kiernan. Costume Design by Cheryl Odom, Choreographer, Patrick McDonald. Music Director, Sitara Schauer. Cast: John Shannon, Emily Rankin, Joey Beth Gilbert, Bear Schacht, Noah Segard, Miles, Blitch, Hania Stocker, Ken Bordner, Tyler Nunez, Hamilton Turner, Antonio Miniño, Eric Devlin, Zoe P. Burke, Hannah Machado, Mary Beth Lindsey