When I first determined to check out the “immersive” As You Like It at The Steep and Thorny Way To Heaven, I’m pretty sure I based my expectations entirely on works I’d seen there before. In this private event space, I once attended a fairy-themed vaudevillian variety show with venue co-host Megan Skye Hale emceeing for a kettle-drummer, two masked mimes, two belly dancers and an aerial acrobat. More recently, I also caught a rock revue performed by venue co-host Myrrh Larsen and inspired by Hades and Persephone, where the mythic characters pursued each other through a torrid contemporary dance that started onstage and then rampaged through the audience.
So when I heard the space would host a Shakespeare play, I wondered what we might see: A juggling Touchstone, chanting punchlines between catches? A quick-changing Rosalind, flashing rapidly between a ballgown and a tux? An aerialist Phoebe, dangling just above the shepherd Silvius’s furtive grasp?
As it turns out, Speculative Drama & Susurrations actually plays this production pretty straight and narrow—not too steep or thorny—with what would qualify as a unique and engaging treatment, but not a wild and wacky reimagining. What the play does deliver are some new faces, some fun variations, and an excellent option for date-night Shakespeare comedy. Get the Montage to sculpt you a swan, then walk a couple of blocks to this show.*
The wardrobe is Doc Marten Neo-Victorian. The set is minimal, just a black background, but with a cool catwalk installed along stage right. The blocking is dynamic and often comic, the diction is precise, and the couples’ “meet-cutes” are appropriately funny and fawning.
Orlando is Tim Fodge, a Newberger making a worthy Portland debut. A Kenneth Branagh/Kevin Klein type who looks best in a beard and comports himself with eloquence, pomp and mischief, Fodge probably has a past and is safely assured a future in Shakespeare, but could yet develop more range. Even when he’s exiled from a kingdom and attacked by a lion, we never believe he’s in any danger. Enso Theatre Ensemble’s Caitlin Lunshington as Rosalind is over-the-top adorable, dimpled and enthusiastic and, when necessary, coy and sly. Her best moves include an impressive cartwheel out of Orlando’s arms, and a 1950s “boy adventurer”-style Ganymede, with hands on hips and a twinkle in the eye, a la Davy Crockett or Peter Pan. Megan Skye Hale, also the show’s A.D., plays Rosalind’s cohort Celia with matching gusto.
Readers Theatre Rep’s Wendy Wilcox plays a stately female version of the banished Duke Senior (timely, with Hillary’s rise), while Jacques (whom recent productions including this one puzzlingly insist on calling “Jay-Queeze,” like some B-list rapper) is portrayed here not as a straight sad sack, but rather a preening and arch gay man flourishing a fan, more in love with the poetry of his own laments than actually aggrieved by them. A few characters, Audrey, Charles, and William, are omitted, with Charles still referenced but never seen onstage and the other two struck completely from the script. Audrey’s omission leaves Touchstone without a lover, giving Jacques’ eager recounting of meeting him a more twitterpated tone. Jacques also seems to take more than an artistic interest in his accompanying troubadour, Amiens—a take that seems new, but also plausibly may hark all the way back to the original Elizabethan all-male-player tradition. “Play me songs all day to soothe my spirit?” Please. That is flirting. Jeff Desautels, who plays both Amiens and Oliver, sports a similar scarf and demeanor in both roles, but cultivates more chemistry with Jacques than with Celia, which piques the imagination. YOCTOtheatre’s Sean Bowie as Touchstone is given less than usual to do, but dispatches it admirably; Caitlynn Didlick, a recurring performer at Steep and Thorny, plays a relatively mild-mannered and understated Phoebe; and PSU theater student London Bauman makes a sympathetic Sylvius.
Though nobody’s spinning from the ceiling, this is a worthwhile spin on Shakespeare comedy As You Like It—and as it happens, I do.
*Because of the space’s status as a private venue, reservations are required.