BWW REVIEW: AS YOU LIKE IT at the GAMM THEATRE is a Blue Thumbs Up
The Gamm Theatre closes its fifteen year run in Pawtucket with Shakespeare's AS YOU LIKE IT, so it was with mixed emotions that I turned right onto Exchange St. last Saturday, for the last time to be squeezed into the lyric, little bandbox of a theater. Fear not, theatergoers, they're not going away, just going to Warwick, where I trust they will continue to produce some of the most entertaining, interesting and thought provoking theater you can find. They chose to go out with Shakespeare and once again have found a new way to look at a play and led us to a new way to look at reality. It's what they do there.
The first thing co-directors Tony Estrella and Rachel Walshe do is challenge your concept of the Gamm Theatre itself: the seating is rearranged from its customary single bank of seats into two banks on either side of the acting space. It worked well for this production and created additional exit and entrance opportunities. It also made the tiny space seem larger somehow; I wonder that they did not do this more often.
Secondly, AS YOU LIKE IT is a gender bender to begin with, what with Rosalind (here played by Nora Echenheimer) being a man-playing a woman-who plays a man-who pretends to be a woman, and the Gamm has doubled down on this conceit. In this production, women sometimes play men, men sometimes play women, and sometimes actors play both men and women. Even when they have a pair of heterosexual actors, they have the woman (Casey Seymour Kim) play the male part, Silvius, and the male (Jesse Hinson) play the female part, Phoebe. Kim was funny alone as she pined after Phoebe and they were funny together as a mismatched couple. Two very talented actors with very difficult last names to spell play Orlando and Rosalind. Their love story is at the heart of the play; you have to believe in their struggles and love to make this piece work, and I think Shura Baryshnikov as Orlando and Eschenheimer (there, I did it!) make it work. Baryshnikov is also pretty persuasive in her mixed martial arts scene. Don't mess with her.
One character whose gender was accurately assigned was Jeff Church as the fool, Touchstone. Church looks a little like Conan O'Brien, seems to be made of rubber, and will do anything for a laugh. As much as you have to believe in the love story, this has to be funny to work and Church is central to the play's success. You will not fall asleep with him on stage.
More gender misassignments: Jeannine Kane plays the melancholy Jacques, Diego Guevara plays Celia, Milly Massey plays Lebeau, Daraja Hinds plays two men, William and a Lord, and Baryshnikov plays Orlando. Come to think of it, this production is almost as much about gender identification as it is about anything else. Usually this play is about how difficulties ensue when brothers treat each other poorly, the benefits of life away from the intrigues of court, and the triumph of love and marriage-this one is primarily about arbitrary gender assignment and then those other things.
The set was a triumph of simplicity. A carpet on a slightly raised platform in the acting space put you in court; no carpet and you're in Arden. There were a couple of nice lighting effects, and some very nice ensemble singing.
AS YOU LIKE IT runs from April 19-May 27 at The Gamm Theatre, 172 Exchange St., Pawtucket, RI. Running time is two hours and thirty minutes, including intermission. Tickets are $44, $52 and $60; preview performances (April 19-22) are $33. Call 401-723-4266 or order online at gammtheatre.org. The venue is wheelchair accessible with accessible restrooms.
Photo Credit: Peter Goldberg