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Review: AS YOU LIKE IT at the Novato Theater Company

June 16, 2014 § Leave a Comment

Mark Clark’s production of As You Like It for the Novato Theater Company is powered by an inspired concept: He sets the play in the summer of 1967, opening up all sorts of wonderful insights into Shakespeare’s text.

The second I saw Rosalind (Melissa Claire) in her Ganymede disguise – a Sgt. Pepper-ish “mod” jacket (designed by Janice Deneau) – the play’s gender ambiguity immediately made more sense than in any production I have ever seen. Androgyny was suddenly sexy back then, and Orlando’s inability – or unwillingness? – to see through the disguise was plausible in a way I have never understood it before.

Hannah Jester (Celia), Steve Beecroft (Touchstone), Sumi Narendram (Jaques), Melissa Claire (Rosalind) and Skylar Collins (Orlando)

Hannah Jester (Celia), Steve Beecroft (Touchstone), Sumi Narendram (Jaques), Melissa Claire (Rosalind) and Skylar Collins (Orlando)

Since the play centers on Rosalind’s disguise, and her role-playing of a woman – while dressed as a man  – to teach Orlando lessons about love (in this case, during the “summer of love,”) that alone would be a great conceptual reason to reset the play, but this particular move yielded greater results than just that.

Duke Frederick’s court was Nixonian in both look (dark suits) and temperament (generational hostility against the “kids”) providing texture and context to the usually unexplained hatred of Orlando’s older brother Oliver toward him, and Duke Frederick’s unmotivated banishment of Rosalind.

The transformational escape to the Forest of Arden invoked the whole back-to-nature hippie vibe, where the court-in-exile of Duke Frederick looked like The Mommas and The Poppas on a rehearsal break. Which reminds me, this play contains more music than any Shakespeare play – which is usually excruciating, lasting forever and contributing nothing. In this case, however, both the lyrics and the mood worked perfectly when recast into the mold of counter-culture folk music accompanied only by an onstage acoustic guitar. Richard Steele’s fine singing as Amiens (backed up by a “girl group” of forest courtiers) was the highlight of first act. Far from seeming added on, the songs of the exiles expressing their disenchantment with the establishment and their yearning for connection appeared completely organic.

The execution of Clark’s concept, unfortunately, could not rise to the level of his direction. As often happens in community productions, the cast was not up to the challenge of Shakespeare – too much “ACTING,” and very little inhabiting of the material. With the notable exceptions of Mark Shepard as Corin/Duke Senior and Robert Nelson as Silvius/William/ominous-secret-service-guy-in-Frederick’s-court, the performances were disturbingly uneven. Both Melissa Claire as Rosalind and Skylar Collins as Orlando widely missed the mark in numerous scenes, although they were exceptionally charming in their scenes with each other.

Even in a production that fails to live up to its potential there can be interesting, indeed compelling, ideas and sporadic moments of genuine emotionality. Given a more experienced, or better trained, cast Clark’s concept might make a great evening.


Novato Theater Company
June 15, 2014

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