“Can one desire too much of a good thing?,” aks the love-happy Rosiland in William Shakespeare’s gender-bending, romantic romp, As You Like It. In Chicago Shakespeare Theatre’s extremely winning production, it’s quite possible.
This is one thoroughly enjoyable production, and — could it be? — my first Shakespeare at Chi Shakes. Oh, I’ve seen plenty of shows at the Navy Pier venue, but nothing penned by the Stratford-upon-Avon playwright.
So, it was nice to break that streak with such a handsome production, chock-full of true-blue Chicago talent.
At the heart of it, we have Kate Fry and Chaon Cross as “sisters” Rosiland and Celia. Fry and Chaon are the reason to see this production — they illuminate the stage and seem to be having a ball in their roles. It’s fun to see actors so at ease in the material and with each other. And Fry, who’s one of my favorite Chicago actresses, anchors this production with her incredibly intelligent and radiant Rosiland. She fits into Ganymede’s pants very well, too. (If only they’d give her a song to sing …)
As Rosiland’s love interest, Matt Schwader fills in nicely as feeble poet and scrappy wrestler Orlando, demonstrating his physicality by doing chin-ups on the lighting rigs and jumping down from the balcony just a few feet from your lap. While Fry seems to tower over Schwader both in presence and height, Rosiland is marrying down, do to speak, so the pairing fits.
In a standout performance, Marriott Theatre regular Ross Lehman plays Jaques, transforming what I’d imagine to be a rather cynical, downtrodden role into a scene-chewing riot. It was clear, listening to intermission chatter, that people loved Lehman.
Kevin Depinet’s whimsical setting takes us deep into the magical Forest of Ardenne, where most of the characters in the play have entered as a safety zone, and emerge — to their surprise — transformed. The main focal point is a giant, ticking clock, suggesting … I’m not sure. But it’s a cool element.
Probably my only criticism is Gary Griffen’s lucid staging. Scenes clips along, but perhaps too quickly. Resolutions and revelations seem rushed, and the final wedding scene has some chaotic choreography. But the epilogue delivered by Fry and Schwader grounds us again, adding a nice, if mind-bending, final thought about gender, attraction and love.
But one thing I’m not confused about: I’ve fallen even more in love with Kate Fry following last night. Orlando’s one lucky man.
I’m trying something new for 2011 — a CTA Index Rating. I’m going to rate each show on a ten-point scale. This way, I will be able to more effectively track my theatre-going habits and history.
CTA Index Rating: 9 (Griffen’s rushed staging breezed by that final point.)
“As You Like It” plays through March 6 at Chicago Shakespeare Theatre, located on Navy Pier. More info here >