Theater Review: A Raucus New Take On 'As You Like It'

Apr 26, 2018

For their final production in Pawtucket, The Sandra Feinstein-Gamm Theatre has chosen Shakespeare’s “As You Like It.” Rhode Island Public Radio’s Bill Gale says it couldn’t be a better selection, a huge play done with verve and love.

At the Gamm, as you would expect from such a vibrant theater, directors Tony Estrella and Rachel Walshe and a strong cast have gone all out. This “As You Like It” is a raucous, heart-beating, wrestling match of a show. No end is not attacked, nothing of the Bard’s desires ignored and, any number of Gamm-ism is added.

The result is one of Shakespeare’s hardest-to-do plays comes across with drive and honesty, and well-thought out changes. What’s so different about all this? Shakespeare New, maybe? Well, in a bit more than two and a half hours, this bolt of a production takes one of the great themes of “As You Like It,” the difference, and the sameness, of women and men.

In Pawtucket, women play men’s roles, and men play women’s. Think your going to see a vibrant young male actor all deck-ed out in high heels and stockings, his hairstyle long and bold. You bet you are. And ,your going to find this on-stage joke to be a riot, funny, and with a point too. You’ll see one actor (male) get into a vibrant, wildly professional wrestling bash with a female actor, playing as a male. The no holds barred invasion-like fight goes on madly with male throwing female, and, you bet, the opposite returned, going on forever, it seems.

Now, no doubt, there’s no-way to do all this without some hard-charging actors and Gamm’s got ‘em. The two-centered roles are taken by Shura Baryshnikov as Orlando, Nora Eschenheimer as Rosalind. You’ll perhaps remember from Shakespeare 101 that Orlando is the boy who grows up while Rosalind is the play’s center, a women of rising power and knowelage . Here, both actors are female. And pretty quickly that just doesn’t matter. Beautifully and artfully, the performers make it all as two human beings struggling, and finally succeeding, in their lives. What more could any of us ask?

Others, such as, Casey Seymour Kim and Gunner Manchester romp in playing the male/female guessing game and they couldn’t be goofier or funnier. Then there’s Touchstone played by Jeff Church, ordinarily the head of the Pawtucket based Burbage Theater Company. He carouses hilariously all over, poking in to some of the paying costumers, just for laughs. And then, it was great to see the veteran Sam Babbitt back on the Gamm’s stage, and doing darned fine work, too.

Now, all’s not well at this “As You Like It.” The company decided to set the audience on either side of the playing space. From my perch up high and on the side, I missed some important moments needing even to stand up to see what wild, or serious, work was taking place. Let’s hope this does not carry on to the new Gamm theater opening in September in Warwick.

But, also, let’s cheer such productions as this “As You Like It.” It’s nothing less than a new look at an old play, vibrant and fine once again.

“As You Like It” continues at the Gamm Theatre in Pawtucket through May 27. Bill cover the performing arts for Rhode Island Public Radio.