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Theater Review: Spanish Flair Can’t Add Life to ‘Grey’As You Like It

After a successful season opener, Shakespeare Dallas transforms back to usual pedestrian, mediocre ways with its hit-or-miss second production, As You Like It.
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This revolution will not be televised: after a successful season opener, Shakespeare Dallas transforms back to usual pedestrian, mediocre ways with its hit-or-miss second production, As You Like It.

Executive and artistic director Raphael Parry indicated that they wanted a “more modern interpretation” of the Bard’s beloved theatrical comedy, so they chose 1930s civil war era Spain. The time period and revolutionary ethos translate into some striking visual elements. Donna Marquet’s straightforward set design of bare posts (which become trees in the forest of Arden), iconic poster images, and a “¡La Libertad!” banner provide the backdrop for Claudia Stephens’ clever costumes consisting of jodhpurs and jackboots, berets, colorful dresses, and pastorals pastiches of color for the country folk.

The menacing Fascists provide the impetus for the deposed duke’s daughter Rosalind (Joanna Schellenberg) in boy’s clothes, and separately a “traitor’s son” and hated younger brother Orlando (Beau Trujillo) to flee to the idyllic environs of Arden.  They encounter more exiles/revolutionaries in the forest where they all are hiding out, falling in love, and/or railing against Fortune, etc.

Director René Moreno (who’s had a standout year as a director) turns the play into more of a broad ensemble piece instead of a showcase for Shakespeare’s most charming heroine, Rosalind. There are flashes of inspired brilliance with the flamenco dancing, original music (Newton Pittman), and in a few of the acting performances. The whole, however, is a muted mess.

Bafflingly, Schellenberg’s Rosalind is cold and over-serious character, instead of the clever, delightful, and lovable creature we are accustomed to in this role. It’s a flat, constrained interpretation that gets lost in the shuffle of more interesting cohorts, particularly in the usurping duke’s daughter and traveling companion, Celia (Jessica D. Turner).

Turner turns a character that is usually just a poor man’s version of a diluted Rosalind into one of the brightest stars of the play. This winsome flibbertigibbet dances, poses, and owns her every action.

Trujillo as Orlando exists merely as a beautiful beefcake for Rosalind to educate in the ways of matrimony, but he falls into the same over-actoring/ over-gesturing, and/or bland automaton trap that many others in the play fall prey to.

On the upside, TA Taylor plays Monsieur Melancholy, Jacques as a sophisticated mope. He blends a pensive, erudite Brando into a toned-down Charles Nelson Reilly to great effect.

Anthony L. Ramirez hits another comedic homerun in his embodiment of the courtly clown Touchstone. He’s a bawdy, riffing grandstander prone to delivering winking, off-script asides to the audience, but he’s damn good at it.

Minor characters are allowed to shine here, so we get the wonderful Delilah Buitron as Carmela (a rebel attendant), and Hymen (a goddess of marriage) who delivers remarkable singing and dancing.  The scene-stealing Clay Wheeler has a nice turn as the lovesick shepherd Silvius, and Christopher Hartman as the courtier Le Beau fleshes out some early comic relief.

‘Tis much the pity that a beautiful (if hot) outdoor setting combined with Shakespeare’s preeminent crowd-pleasing comedy, and one of the area’s most insightful and talented directors, and a group of earnest artists have given birth to what one patron was overheard to say on the way out: “It’s kinda grey.”

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