LOCAL THEATER: Enough Shakespeare, Too Much Park

I won’t make a habit of posting full theater reviews here in the Blogoshpere, but since Key City Public Theatre’s highly watchable "Shakespeare in the Park" production of "As You Like It’ had the affrontery to open while I was away on vacation and has only two more performances remaining (Aug. 16 and 17), I give it to you here now, in its entirety:
Don’t misunderstand what I’m about to tell you about Key City Public Theatre’s annual “Shakespeare in the Park” outing to Chetzemoka Park.
In two trips north for KCPT’s late-summer tradition, I’ve gotten the same impression: There’s just enough Shakespeare, way too much park.
This year — in a production of “As You Like It” directed by KCPT artistic director Denise Winter, which concludes with 6 p.m. performances Aug. 16 and 17 — the play itself is Shakespeare at its most delightful. The playwright builds his usual slapstick goings-on — love requited and otherwise, identities disguised and mistaken, intentions misunderstood and all eventually, improbably resolved — around the most formidable of his comic heroines, Rosalind … and then dresses her up as a man.
And oh, what a Rosalind Winter has to work with. Jennifer Ewing, home from her first year at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York, clearly has been in Rosalind’s head for a long time, and imbues the character with both an understanding and an energy that you don’t often see at the community-theater level (at least not in combination. Way more often, it’s one or the other, which is the case with much of the rest of Winter’s cast). Ewing is as beautific, self-possessed, smitten (with the handsome Orlando, played by Jesse Olson) and damned funny as you could hope a Rosiland to be.
There are other strong performances, including Sophie Pipia, who does a better job than I’ve seen in several other productions of elevating her Celia above being just “the other girl; Doug Taylor, whose Jacues brought a welcome freshness to the “all the world’s a stage” speech; and Rosaletta Curry, a fine, comic Mme. LeBeau, replete with bicycle and perhaps the finest of Erin McNamara’s lush and lovely costumes.
The staging itself is minimalist, which is entirely appropos. After all, “As You Like It” is set in the forest. So, Winter and scenic designer Albert Mendez frame the show between two huge evergreens, with only a couple stumps and a few ingeniously reversible arbors (one side serving as a floral courtyard backdrop, the other blending in to the forest).
The park is both a help and a hindrance. The pastoral surroundings do, of course, help tranport you to the Forest of Arden. At the Aug. 15 performance I attended, there were deer grazing (actual deer, not the cute, costumed, ill-fated kind portrayed by Tanner Matthew) on the other side of a stand of trees just a few yards from the stage.
But Chetzemoka is a park, after all, and on a summery evening the distractions can be many.
The numerous children in the audience (and many of the adults) move in and out of the gallery at will, and other children simply visiting the park run and play noisily, much too nearby. Bikini’d babes and their boys wander up from the beach, grinning cluelessly at the Shakepearean dialogue. Waves from passing ships splash, and even the limbs of the stageside trees are audibly lashed by the evening zephyrs. In the audience itself, picnics are consumed, conversations advanced and romances pursued. I suspect there might’ve been a child conceived during the “seven ages of man” speech (and if not then, almost certainly during the intermission following the Couple in Question’s urgent stroll to another part of the park).
In other words, it’s not your typical playhouse setting … which is both its charm and its curse.
A few suggestions for future “Shakespeare in the Park” offerings at Chetzemoka:
w Rope off a significant perimeter behind the gallery, better separating the event from the rest of the park’s goings-on.
w Allow entry at only one point along that roped perimeter, eliminating the mad-dash of volunteers soliciting ticket “donations” and the random wanderings-in and -out of too many patrons and casual onlookers.
w During the intermission, make an announcement around the grounds five minutes prior to the play’s resumption. Give a few more minutes’ grace period, and then start Act 2, and oblige late returners to watch from outside the roped perimeter until a scene change or other appropriate time to sneak back to their spot.
I don’t mean to sound grouchy. I liked much of what KCPT did with this most joyous and accessible of Shakespeare comedies, and I generally enjoy the whole concept of “Shakespeare in the Park” — the chance to see classic “theatah” in an informal, al fresco setting.
Just not too informal. There is a point at which the informality becomes rude to the actors.
And Winter’s production — particularly the tour de force that is Ewing’s Rosiland — deserved better.

More info and directions to Chetzemoka are available at keycitypublictheatre.org.

More later. — MM

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