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MSC's "As You Like It" delivers humor and charm to Dominican's outdoor stage

Teddy Spencer and Elena Wright play the lovable duo Orlando and Rosalind
Teddy Spencer and Elena Wright play the lovable duo Orlando and RosalindEric Chazankin

Marin Shakespeare Company's "As You Like It"

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The Marin Shakespeare Company (MSC) kicks off its Silver Anniversary season with a rousing rendition of the Bard’s well-loved comic romp “As You Like It,” rife with one-of-a-kind portrayals of some of Shakespeare’s most beloved characters. This special season is made even more special by the cleverly inclusive “Pay As You Like It” campaign, where all the world’s players are invited to come and enjoy a lovely evening under the stars with MSC at their Dominican College outdoor stage for whatever price you can afford or see fit to offer.
Featuring a host of talented actors, remarkable stage design, and some truly shining character renderings, MSC takes you on a ride from the tense court of the usurper Duke Frederick, brilliantly and intensely played by Scott Coopwood, to the calm and serene Forest of Arden, the new home of Duke Senior, also brilliantly portrayed by Coopwood, and his loyal men. For the most part, it is Rosalind, daughter of the deposed brother Duke Senior, who guides the audience through this tale, with her loyal cousin Celia at her side. Elena Wright, as Rosalind, is a true gem in this production.
The play opens with an awkwardly choreographed and not quite believably playful sword fight that includes the eldest son of the late Rowland de Boys, Oliver, played by Davern White, and an overtly French courtier, Le Beau. Being that this was opening night, there must be some allowances made for the laughable parley between the two actors.
As the story goes, Oliver was given the task of paying for the education of his youngest brother, Orlando, played by the somewhat accomplished but all too exuberant Teddy Spencer, yet neglects to do so due to his own machinations and jealousy of his younger brother’s inherent charm and youthful vigor.
When Orlando makes his entrance, it is to chide his eldest brother for not giving him the education and life experience that was commanded him by their late and loving father.
Immediately, Spencer comes off as a bit too slack-jawed and loose-limbed for the role and, although he delivers his lines with proper timing and clarity, he does so in a cadence that may have been more suitable for a role as Jethro Clampett in the stage version of “The Beverly Hillbillies.” Throughout the play, Spencer’s bravado tends to overcome the proper contours of the character of Orlando, and he never seems to settle into the appropriate guise, leading some in the audience to not really care whether he lives or dies. (The character, that is, not the actor.)
Orlando draws the eye of the fair Rosalind following a wrestling match with the wild and hairy Charles, wonderfully portrayed by Jeffrey Lloyd Heatherly, who captivates the audience with a bit of timeless Shakespearian charm spun together with the all-too-familiar grunting debauchery of pro wrestler Randy “The Macho Man” Savage, or perhaps even Stone Cold Steve Austin. Unbeknownst to gallant Orlando, WrestleMania Charles (he even sports a gilded championship belt!) has been commanded by the former’s brother to break the oblivious boy’s neck. Orlando happens upon victory, although not without confusing the audience due to the actor’s semi-awkward and poorly staged wrestling. Honestly, Spencer appears to be altogether unfamiliar and uncomfortable with the body contact necessary to convince a learned crowd that he is actually Orlando, fighting for his honor and some sense of manhood. In the case of not quite being a man, Spencer nails it. If not for the excellent work of Mr. Heatherly, the wrestling match would have appeared as contrived as the opening swordfight.
It is after Orlando’s circumspect victory over Charles that Miss Wright makes her full entrance. The role of Rosalind is Shakespeare’s only true female lead and accounts for the most lines written for a woman by the playwright. With these lofty shoes to fill, Wright does an impressive and commanding rendering of the character. Though the talented actress, along with the not-quite-believable and overly SoCal flavored Livia Demarchi as Celia, gets off to a cold and bumpy start, she quickly warms up and finds a solid groove as the two cousins hatch a plan to escape, in disguise, to the Forest of Arden as refugees from the tempestuous rage and fury that is rapidly descending from Celia’s father, Duke Frederick.
The banal and rather disappointing portrayal of Orlando notwithstanding, it is into this groove that the utterly amazing and incomparable Adam Roy steps as the “motley fool,” Touchstone. Mr. Roy’s rendition of Touchstone is so thoroughly and fully embodied that, at times, it’s as if the character becomes aware of his own brilliance and pokes a small hole in the actor’s countenance.
Other than this minor slight, he is a joy to watch and plays his role as the semi-schizoid jester with such precision and focus that he makes the entire thing worth the price of admission. His never failing skip stride and curly toed boots glide across the stage with a delicate and graceful airiness, taking the audience with him through soliloquy and monologue with humor and intelligence.
The play includes some impressive vocal numbers with a band of troubadours that spend their days in revelry and contemplation with the Good Duke Senior and his men and many of the minor roles are expertly handled by such actors as Alexander Lenarsky as the pathetic and lovesick Silvius and Kit Grimm as the stooped and loyal servant to the late Rowland de Boys. Mr. Heatherly makes a second appearance as the drunken friar Sir Oliver Martext and plays this role as finely as he does the boorish wrestler.
All in all, the play is delightful and a true testament to the work and dedication of MSC founders Robert S. Currier and Lesley Schisgall Currier, who received many accolades and awards at the beginning of the show, including the declaration of July 12th as being “Marin Shakespeare Company Day” in San Rafael, Ca. and an entry of MSC’s accomplishments into the Library of Congress, causing one State Assemblyman to proclaim, “I finally got to do something progressive and forward thinking in Washington.”
The play lasts for just over two hours with a brief intermission. The Marin County summer nights can carry a chill so bring plenty of layers and blankets along with your bottles of Napa Valley wine and picnic dinners. The play is very fun and family friendly though may be a little long for the wee ones.
"As You Like It" admission is "Pay As You Like It," any donation serves as admission. Performances are presented on weekends through Aug. 10 with evening performances at 8 p.m. and a few 4 p.m matinees. Check listings for specific times.