Thursday, April 5, 2018

Review of Eclectic Full Contact Theatre's As You Like It

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called As You Like It. It was by William Shakespeare and it was directed by Katherine Siegel. It was about two women, Rosalind (Chloe Baldwin) and Celia (Jessica L. Fisher) who lived in Duke Frederick's (Nick Dorado) court. Rosalind's mother, Duke Señor (Honey West), had been banished, and now Rosalind was also being banished for trying to protect Orlando (Aja Singletary), whose brother Oliver (David Gordon-Johnson) had set up a wrestling match with Charles (Kyle Burch) in the hopes that his sister Orlando would be killed. And Orlando and Rosalind have fallen in love with each other, and they both end up in the same woods as Rosalind's mother. But Rosalind has disguised herself as a boy named Ganymede, so no one recognizes her. She decides that she is going to give Orlando lessons to win the love of Rosalind. It is about love, deceit, and fidelity. I think this is a really great show. It shows you twists on these characters that I had never seen before and I really liked.

I thought that Orlando and Rosalind's relationship was just so adorable. They were a little bit terrified of messing up around each other but they still wanted to be around each other. So they were kind of confused about how to handle that, which was charming. When Rosalind first sees Orlando, she's immediately drawn to her and understands that she needs to help her even though the person Orlando is fighting is on Rosalind's family's side. It is such a beautiful moment to see them fall in love with each other at first sight and sort of nervously glance at each other throughout that entire scene. They had these moments whenever they would leave each other's sight, where they would literally have to be pulled away from each other. It was hilarious and relatable. Even when Rosalind is in disguise, Orlando adores Ganymede. Even when she doesn't understand that she's with Rosalind, Orlando loves the person that Rosalind is as Ganymede. I like how it shows a love that is not because of gender or the way that someone looks; their love is, no matter what. These characters aren't just the adorable lovers, they also provide a lot of comedy because of how their conversations develop. I think it is remarkable how Baldwin shifts between Rosalind and Ganymede and you never lose track of how that character really feels and what she wants. I think the two actors who played Orlando and Rosalind had great chemistry and worked really well on stage together.

I loved the choice of making Orlando a woman in this version. It reversed a literary stereotype which is homosexual panic, where a man thinks he is falling in love with another man. But then it turns out that that man is a woman and that is usually a moment of relief. I'm not sure that in Shakespeare's time they had the homosexual panic moment in these crossdressing comedies, but it is a tendency in some productions I've seen. What was nice in this version is that there was no panic about being gay; it was actually a straight or bisexual panic. Orlando thinks, "Holy crap, I might be straight or bisexual!" It is a break from the way society typically thinks about the relationships in these plays. I also thought it was really interesting how Duke Señor's banishment seemed to be because she was transgender. Everyone at Duke Frederick's court kept messing up her pronouns and saying father instead of mother. That is not a storyline I would have even thought of, but I think it was genius. It let them address all these social issues that are really relevant now. This play does make you think about gender fluidity, but I wouldn't have thought about it with this character. They didn't change anything about the play except the pronouns and mother/father, but it still worked beautifully for that character to be trans. With the character Jacques (Laura Carney), I could not remember what the character's pronouns were (the character is originally a man but the actor identifies as a woman in her bio) and then I noticed it didn't really matter in this case, even though I like to respect people's and character's pronouns. Sometimes it is interesting not to think about that. The most important thing about Jacques is the pessimism. And that bitterness certainly came through, no matter what the gender of the character was.

Two of the other sets of lovers in this play can be problematic characters, but I thought the actors did a good job of making them as unproblematic as they could be without altering the script. Silvius (Christopher Sylvie) is in love with Phebe (Alice Wu), but the feelings weren't reciprocated. Phebe is in love with Ganymede. And Ganymede makes a deal with her that if she still wants to marry him after she learns this one thing, which is that he is a woman, she can, but if she doesn't she has to marry Silvius. I understand that Rosalind wants to look out for Silvius because she is empathetic and he's madly in love with Phebe. But no one should be forcing women into marriage by tricking them. But the actors did a good job of showing Phebe seeing Silvius in a new way and not just begrudgingly marrying him. That makes it seems less like she is being forced into something she doesn't want to do. She doesn't get to say a lot more after she discovers who Ganymede really is, but she uses expression and movement to show that she is not angry about marrying Silvius. Audrey (Megan DeLay) is not the brightest or most mature person, so that is why the clown, Touchstone (Tim Lee), is so appealing to her. Because he is actually quite smart, you might think that he might be abusing her innocence and stupidity. But it was clear from his performance that he was actually in awe of how she sees the world as this magical, beautiful place that is not filled with the hurt he has seen.

People who would like this show are people who like adorable couples, un-begrudging forced marriages, and straight panic. I think people should go see this show. It has great new takes on a lot of the characters and some phenomenal performances.

Photos: Katherine Siegel

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