Review: Rude Mechanicals’ Production of “As You Like It”

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Program art of two characters designed by Boaz Bamiro (Courtesy of Betty Ellzey)

Shepherd University’s Rude Mechanicals Medieval and Renaissance Players began presenting their performance of Shakespeare’s romantic comedy “As You Like It.” The performances will run Nov. 7 through Nov. 10.

“As You Like It” is a tale of two families and their problems. The first family is made up of aristocratic brothers who are fighting over their father’s death. The older brother, Oliver, wishes his younger brother to die, while the younger brother, Orlando, only wishes to be treated like a human being. Orlando decides to challenge Duke Frederick’s professional wrestler for a prize of money. He wins the match, but he also falls in love at first sight with an onlooker named Rosalind who also falls in love with him at first sight.

The second family, however, is of royalty and follows two female cousins, Celia and Rosalind, both trying to maintain their friendship and support of each other. Celia was given the royal throne as her father banished Rosalind’s father, the rightful heir, to the Forest of Arden, but allowed Rosalind to stay in the court since she and Celia were great friends. Celia’s father, Duke Frederick, later changes his mind about allowing Rosalind to stay and banishes her as well, thus causing Celia to run away with Rosalind in disguises while bringing the court fool with them.

While the set design was minimalistic, the acting made the set appear bigger and better. On stage, there was only a tarp over an object that could support the actors sitting or lying on it. A sparkly red tarp was seen for the majority of the first portion of the performance, then two of the actors would get a green tarp with leaf patterns and place it over top of the red tarp when the scene changed to the forest.

In front of the stage were two other objects covered in the green tarp with leaf patterns on it, and a fake tree to the left of the stage. The actors used all of the space they had available including the aisles and blocked off seating areas as their stage.

The Rude Mechanicals’ performance opened strongly and shockingly with the brothers, Oliver and Orlando’s, fight. The audience had their mouths agape and let out a few gasps when Orlando, played by Adam Wilson, grabbed the throat of Oliver, played by Raphael Corletta. The acting between Wilson and Corletta in this scene was stunning as it did not look like a performance, but a genuine action.

This acting carried over to the scenes that followed including the wrestling match between Orlando and Charles, played by Austin Fitzgerald. This was yet another scene that made the audience gasp as the wrestling appeared legitimate, and at times actually was, as Fitzgerald got a small wound on his chest on opening night.

The audience was soon laughing uproariously when Touchstone, played by Dylan Kontra, came into the production. Kontra’s performance added a much needed comedic break from the serious and intense beginning scenes with his humorous lines and various actions he performed on stage. He also directly spoke to the audience in a few scenes.

The most notable performance with Touchstone was when he met William, played by Elijah Fritz. Fritz was able to bring such a life to a character who was only seen on stage for a short amount of time. Fritz and Kontra did an excellent and hilarious job with their performance together, down to perfect comedic timing. Both actors were able to maintain a straight face while performing one of the funniest scenes in the entire play.

The laughter from the audience only continued when they got introduced to Jaques, played by Gabrielle Hess. Hess’ character focused on melancholic humor throughout the production, which Hess performed darkly and well comically.

Altogether, the production of “As You Like It” by The Rude Mechanicals was astonishing. Each of the actors did an amazing job with their performances and really breathed life into the characters they played.