If you don’t like change, especially with theater companies fussing around with updated interpretations of Shakespeare, then you’ll love the work of the Ohio Shakespeare Festival. Under the guidance of co-artistic directors Terry Burgler and Nancy Cates, pretty much nothing ever changes.
In As You Like It, their current production, the story hasn’t been re-imagined as a contemporary corporate retreat in the woods. There are no tweets or karaoke woven into the text to keep young folks interested. But even while using the same old period costumes and same old reliable two-stairway set, OSF manages to once again light up the woods with delight.
It all begins a half-hour before the curtain with a “Greenshow” of music and japery, an audience warm-up that will definitely get you laughing and clapping. Two features of the pre-show are the singing and strumming by Jason Leupold (who does likewise in the play) and a mano-a-mano battle between Ryan Zarecki and Joe Pine. This tightly choreographed displau is highlighted by an entangled wrestling move where they throw each other onto their feet, in turn, over and over again.
The play is as intensely engaging as the pre-show, offering a volley of its own pleasures. In a bow to some contemporary instincts, director Terry Burgler implements some cross-gender casting, with Katie Zarecki playing Frederick, brother of Orlando (an adorable Ryan Zarecki, Katie’s husband, who literally swings from the balcony as he plants love poems to Rosalind in the forest). And Tess Burgler (Terry’s daughter) plays a feisty Rosalind, at times crossdressed as Ganymede, while Tess’s husband, Joe Pine, plays the wrestler Charles. As you can see, OSF is a family affair in some convoluted ways that would no doubt please the Bard.
Old Will would also be pleased by the director’s deft handling of the performance, with actors often making eye contact with the audience and bringing them into the action on (and off) the stage. As a result, this fun-filled romance clips along at a merry pace, augmented by Trevor Buda as a particularly pathetic and love-torn Silvius, hilarious Lara Mielcarek as the romantically misdirected Phebe, and Andrew Gorell’s amusing turn as the clown Touchstone. Sarah Coon as Roz’s gal pal Celia adds some dimension to the proceedings, as does Geoff Knox, who delivers the iconic “Seven Ages of Man” speech as melancholy Jaques with specificity and precision.
The Ohio Shakespeare Festival is a treat—sitting out by the lagoon at Stan Hywet Hall and being serenaded by bullfrogs as evening turns to night. Just make sure you’re planted in your seat a half-hour before show time!
As You Like It
Through July 16 at Ohio Shakespeare Festival, Stan Hywet Hall & Gardens, 100 S. High St., Akron, 888-718-4253, ohioshakespearefestival.com