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For the second time this summer, having joined with the circus last May to bring you A Comedy of Errors, Raleigh Little Theatre hosts Bare Theatre to present a unique evening of Shakespearean delights in a presentation of As You Like It. For this performance, the Forest of Arden is to be found in the hills of Appalachia, as PineCone, the Piedmont Council of Traditional Music, sponsors the appearance of the Zinc Kings, whose traditional music suffuses this show with a solid down-home feel.
The Zinc Kings is comprised of three members: fiddler Christen Blanton Mack, banjo player Dan Clouse, and guitarist Mark Dillon. All three sing, having formed the band after playing together for years in Greensboro. The group lends a real feeling of Appalachia to the goings-on in the magical Forest of Arden.
As You Like It is one of Shakespeare’s stock comedies, having women disguised as men, mistaken identities, multiple weddings, and a true comic feel. Bare Theatre brings together a cast that is well-steeped in Shakespeare; its members sport a long list of Shakespeare’s other works. Many of the cast have been with Bare for some time, and have the credentials to prove it.
For example, Laura Bess Jernigan, who plays Phebe, has a six-show pedigree coming into this production. Jernigan also plays double duty as the show’s assistant director. Kurt Benrud, playing Adam, brings a five-show history with him, stating he has “five down, 32 to go,” before he completes the entire works of Shakespeare. Rebecca Blum, who plays Touchstone, has already completed the full range, having performed as one-third of the cast of The Complete Works of Shakespeare (abridged) [revised] as well as four other full productions.
You can pretty much select any cast member at random from the program and see a long list of productions of Shakespeare to that member’s credit. This is perhaps one of the most seasoned casts for Shakespeare to come along, giving director Heather J. Strickland a well-tuned ensemble. The comedy comes thick and fast, so it is well that this cast is versed in the Bard, allowing these lines to be spoken “trippingly upon the tongue.”
Full use of the Stephenson Amphitheatre takes place with this work. The cast uses every means to keep the audience with them. Jeff Buckner, as Orlando, places love poems to his love Rosalind throughout the Forest of Arden; Buckner performs this feat while dashing through the audience, handing one poem to various and sundry members of the house. The orchestra pit sees a range of characters as they scurry through the show, and lovers Audrey (Kacey Reynolds Schedler) and Corin (Jason Baily) tarry awhile on the edge of the proscenium as they enjoy the Forest.
Rosalind, portrayed by Whitney Griffin, is a marvel as she assumes the guise of Ganymede to hide herself from the wicked Duke (Fred Corlett). With her faithful Celia (Mary Forester) at her side, she fools just about everyone as she attempts to have Orlando “woo” her. But her shining moment comes at the end, when Rosalind must come forth, eschew Ganymede, and bring a whole range of folk to the altar. Griffin plays the whole with aplomb.
Bare Theatre, and its Artistic Director Heather J. Strickland, has worked tirelessly to bring two full comedies to this summer, both of which have given Shakespeare a wicked twist. This combination of factors has worked well to bring Shakespeare “to the people,” giving what might be dry iambic pentameter a natural and comical feel, and making sure that the Bard is witnessed by that much more enthusiastic audiences. If you enjoy Shakespeare, but even more if you enjoy original old-style Appalachian music, get yourself down to Raleigh Little Theatre and see As You Like It.
As You Like It continues through Friday, August 30. For more details on this production, please view the sidebar.