Guest Director Nick Hutchison has staged a beautiful production of Shakespeare's somewhat naughty As You Like It at Rhodes College. But I have to admit, the Wednesday night preview occasionally left me scratching my head and thinking decidedly un-Shakesperean thoughts. "WTF," for example.
Hutchison's previous production of Twelfth Night at Rhodes was top notch, and, as I have already reported, I had an absolute blast sitting in on a team-taught Hamlet class that the RSC-bred actor/director helped to lead. So, I was more than a little surprised to find myself occasionally struggling to stay engaged with the first of Shakespeare's comedies that (thanks to a no-holds- barred 80's- era production by a young Nashville Shakespeare Festival) I ever truly fell in love with. This production, like Hutchison's Twelfth Night, delights in the meaning of the words, rather than the words themselves, but unlike the earlier effort, there are some odd character choices, and the words and actions aren't always fairly matched.
If you need a synopsis, that's what the internet's for. Intermission Impossible attracts a fairly literate crew and I expect most readers know the story of Orlando, Rosalind, an exiled Duke, and a variety of clowns that journey from the city to the country and discover love in its infinite variety.
Many of Hutchison's more theatrical choices— the sort of non-literal choices I usually revel in— seemed like the stubs of interesting ideas, barely realized. I was especially confounded by the stylized finish to the wrestling match. Did young Orlando win his match or did Charles the wrestler have an aneurysm? Also, confetti boxes exploding as if at Orlando's command, had no precedent, or ensuing rhyme. So they stood out as an odd gimmick. Although, for those willing to stoop at intermission, it was nice to see the name "Rosalind" — Orlando's love — written on the tiny slivers of paper.
In many ways Hutchison's As You Like It resembles his Twelfth Night. There are scenic resonances, and cast members returning in similar roles. Steven Brown, whose Malvolio, is among the best I've seen, has returned, and is a convincing Jaques, if not as colorful as the grumbly former libertine might be. Likewise, Donald Jellerson, a brilliant Feste in Twelfth Night, showed real promise, but often seemed unsure of himself as Touchstone, the syllogism-spouting clown, who's in love with a shepherdess, but not the idea of settling down.
The student work was uniformly solid, though some character choices were questionable. I'm never comfortable laughing at a character someone has randomly designated as a fop, merely for the sake of the comic potential found in broad stereotypes. That happened. And there was a strong sense — at least on the night I attended — that everyone needed more run-throughs. Obviously, time has passed since the night I dropped by, and I would be very interested to see how the show has grown in a week.
It's probably easy to read this as a review filled with complaints. And I suppose that's what it is. But it's really more of a review full of questions in the form of statements and disagreements that are more quibble than qualm. Others may be un-bothered by the inconsistencies, and happy to play along. For me, what's proving to be special about a Nick Hutchison production, is the rare, and wonderful opportunity to see actors— especially young actors— playing Shakespeare's characters, not acting Shakespeare. It's a quality that smooths over imperfections, and difficult to quantify. It's also why you might want to see this show whether my review makes it sound appealing or not.
For deets, here.