Delaware Shakespeare kicks off their second annual Community Tour with a lively production of As You Like It, performed at the Red Clay branch of Groves Adult High School. The Community Tour is designed to bring professional theater to underserved audiences in nontraditional venues, and the combination of the diverse cast, classic play, and boundless energy invites all viewers to experience Shakespeare.
Danielle Leneé (a familiar face with Delaware Shakespeare) stars as Rosalind in a fresh and funny turn. Leneé’s Rosalind wants nothing more than to exist peacefully with the people she loves, Celia and Orlando; however, when denied, she rises to the occasion with cleverness and seat-of-her-pants plotting and produces schemes defying everyone’s expectations, her own included. Leneé’s charming performance allows Rosalind to take her turn as the butt of the joke without ever undercutting her intelligence.
Trevor William Fayle counterbalances Leneé as Orlando, matching her in charm but giving Orlando a sweet openness. Fayle’s portrayal of his infatuation with Rosalind, and his willingness to imagine “Ganymede” in her place, is so sincere that their love at first sight seems immediately plausible. Bi Jean Ngo, meanwhile, plays Celia with an amusing flightiness that never compromises her affection for or faithfulness to her cousin. The rest of the eight-person cast takes on most of the responsibility for doubled roles, allowing them to show off their range. J Hernandez shifts from the uncompromising Duke Frederick to the jovial Duke Senior to a particularly funny Corin, a yokel with some nevertheless sardonic insights. Jeffrey Cousar goes through similar alterations, as well as expressing his characters’ own personal transformations: his angry Oliver changes into a penitent brother and a gentleman capable of love at first sight, while his simpering Silvius, though perpetually lovesick, grows the suggestion of a backbone and also busts out some sweet breakdance moves during “In the Springtime”. Merri Rashoyan makes the most of multiple minor parts, giving Charles a cocksure brashness, Audrey a delightfully dumb fascination with the bouncing tree boughs, and Phebe a determined and hilarious seductiveness. The entire cast possesses a cheerful amiability that serves the play’s humor well.
The trajectory of designer Amanda Wolff’s modern dress costumes veers quickly away from the somber court dress (Duke Frederick and Oliver’s dark trousers and waistcoats; Rosalind and Celia’s matching wrap-style dresses in restrained light blue and heather grey) into an explosion of color and patterns in the countryside. Duke Senior’s merry band of exiles wear bright scarves and accessories with their smart fedoras; Rosalind adds jade green overalls and Celia a purple skirt and matching kerchief overtop their respective outfits; the shepherds and shepherdesses favor simpler garb, but with pleasing details like the blue embroidery on Phebe/Audrey’s peasant blouse or the elaborately woven pattern on Silvius’ poncho. Wolff also does a nice job balancing the need for distinctive costumes with the actors’ need for quick changes when doubling parts; having Touchstone wear Audrey’s wrap skirt while Rashoyan is busy playing Phebe in the final scene is an amusing touch.
David Meyer, head of the University of Delaware’s Sculpture Area, returns as the set designer. The minimal set dressing for the theater-in-the-round setup consists largely of carved wooden stools and a table that doubles as the base for the sculptural trees that signify Arden Forest, lovely metal outlines in a rainbow of colors that sway as if in the wind. Props are few, but the wire sculptures of glittering fruit provide a pop of color and emphasize the generosity of those in the forest.
Under director Madeline Sayet’s guidance, the many moving pieces of doubled parts, roaming actors, and musical numbers effortlessly come together in their own dance. The pace is steady without being sluggish, and the actors excel at keeping the tone lighthearted without sacrificing the authenticity of the characters. Delaware’s local musician/composer Joe Trainor participates as Arden’s local musician/composer Amiens, augmenting his guitar with the ensembles’ own musical talents and adapting all of Shakespeare’s songs in catchy arrangements that are over far too soon.
As You Like It exemplifies an archetypal Shakespearean comedy, featuring wise clowns, mistaken identities, minor class warfare, and crossdressing. Delaware Shakespeare faithfully sticks to the spirit of the play, even as it updates its outer trappings with modern dress and a cast that reflects American society. The result is a classic production that never feels underproduced – a fun interpretation for longtime fans and an excellent introduction for those who have never experienced Shakespeare before.