Monday, October 13, 2014


Touchstone the clown (Zachary Centers) foolishly
explains his idea of love to Rosalind (Kailea Saplan.)

By Tina Arth and Darrell Baker

The last 500 years have made much of Shakespeare’s work somewhat impenetrable to modern theater audiences, and it can be a real challenge for actors and directors to overcome this vast temporal chasm. Theatre in the Grove’s current production of As You Like It makes a valiant effort, and is frequently successful in lifting the curtain of obscurity from this much-venerated comedy. Is it worth the trouble? Perhaps not, if one’s only frame of reference is pure entertainment value. However, appreciation of modern English-language plays requires some familiarity with historical roots, which cannot be achieved by reading alone – audiences must be exposed to live productions of ancient works. In this context, it is not only worthwhile, it is essential that theater companies tackle Shakespeare.

Celia (Alison Luey) reads a love letter from Orlando
meant for Rosalind.
The story itself is convoluted beyond words – rather than attempt to explain the show’s characters or events, we will leave it at this: there are bad guys and good guys (some of them women) and for reasons left unexplained the bad guys have  kicked the good guys out of town. The evil Duke banishes the Duchess, and later her daughter, who goes off to the woods (in drag) with the Duke’s daughter. There’s a guy who hates his younger brother, who also hates him. Lots of people eventually fall in love, not necessarily with an appropriate love object. A few weddings later, the play ends happily.

Director Gavin Knittle’s firm hand keeps this chaotic cauldron of fol de rol under control and ensures that his actors find and exploit every comic moment in the script. As in Shakespeare’s day, there is a strong reliance on broad physical comedy – which, when combined with exquisite timing, ensures that the audience will catch the jokes even if they cannot always follow the story. Knittle also composed original music for the production, enabling cellist Cory Sweany to show his stuff while several of the actors display their fine singing voices.

Kailea Saplan is irresistibly charming as the cross-dressing heroine, Rosalind. She is ably abetted in her peregrinations by the loyal Celia (Alison Luey). Aaron Filyaw is staunch and manly, if somewhat confused and hapless, as Rosalind’s lovestruck and poetically challenged suitor Orlando. In a show that already confuses gender roles, Director Knittle goes the Bard one better by disregarding gender in his casting. The Duchess (actually a Duke in the original) is played with great distinction by Anita Zijdemans Boudreau, whose excellent diction and dignified stage presence enhance the show’s overall professionalism. Charles the Wrestler, as portrayed by Brittney Spady, adds a comic note to the opening scenes that immediately engages the audience.

Another cast standout is Zach Centers, whose portrayal of Touchstone the Clown distracts us from the sometimes ponderous confusion of the first act, and Donald Cleland’s consistently bumbling persona (both as Adam and Martext) probably earns the evening’s most laughs.  The second act is livened considerably by the addition of Carly Wasserstein (Phoebe) whose misplaced lust for Rosalind is expressed with superb delivery and a remarkably mobile face that telegraphs her every emotion.

Zach Centers’ set design is brilliant – the rolling sets open and close quickly and seamlessly, moving the audience from a sterile court to a lush forest glade with almost magical speed. Tanya Scott’s scenic art is truly lovely, in the tradition of the best Renaissance landscape painters.

Theatre in the Grove’s production brings Washington County theater lovers an accessible and entertaining vision of Shakespearean comedy.

As You Like It runs through October 26th, with performances at 7:30 pm on Fridays and Saturdays and matinees at 2:30 0n Sundays. Tickets are available at Theatre in the Grove, 2028 Pacific Avenue, Forest Grove.

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