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BWW Review: Head Trick Theatre's Pastorally Pleasing AS YOU LIKE IT

Shakespeare in the park is one of the best parts of summer, and it's exciting that Head Trick Theatre has mounted a production that is affordable, family-friendly and energetic. AS YOU LIKE IT is the perfect outdoor production, and using the beautiful woods of Blackstone Park as its backdrop, and very minimal sets that allow the dialogue and performances to shine as they should.

In the play, Rosalind and her cousin Celia flee an oppressive court to hide out in the woods. Rosalind disguises herself as a man--Ganymeade and Celia as Aliena. Rosalind falls in love with Orlando, but since she's disguised as a man, she can only act on her affections by pretending to help him practice wooing. Other characters meet and fall in love around them, and [Spoiler Alert] , everyone lives happily ever after. It's light, bawdy, gender-bending and smart.

This version is particularly gender-bending as Orlando is portrayed by Rebecca Magnotta who is so convincing the viewer forgets she a woman. The play begins with her wrestling a much larger man, and the fight is so well-choreographed and convincing, I found myself worried she was actually hurt. Orlando is charming, earnest, scrappy and Magnotta's performance just makes the audience fall in love with him/her as she groans with love for Rosalind and scatters the forest with terrible love poems.

Other notable performances include Shawn Fennell as Touchstone aka The Fool. After a somewhat frenetic exchange of exposition and scene-setting at the very beginning of the play, delivered in a cadence that made it seem like the actors were having a contest to see who could get the words out fastest, Fennell brings back the slower pace of letting the words land and resonate with the audience. Often this is punctuated with a gesture that is just perfect for getting a laugh, and helping all Audience members parse Shakespeare's less well-understood word choices. Long-limbed and lean, he prances about in a fancy vest mocking the other characters subtly and inserting just enough rude jokes to remind the audience that the fool knows much more about human nature than the people he works for.

The original version of this play includes songs and dances, and this version executes those in an energetic and intricate way. Some of the songs feel a little long, but the dances entrance the viewer and make one feel as if he or she stumbled upon an ancient druid rite of spring. Like the initial fight scene, all of the dances are choreographed perfectly and executed with minimal props. Rather than feeling like the performers buying time to give other actors time to change, the dance sequences become something to look forward to, and continue to get more and more intricate as the play progresses. It can be difficult to distinguish a classical performance of a Shakespearean play, in traditional costume from other productions, but director Rebecca Maxfield was canny to seize upon the dance numbers to make viewing this play a truly unique and magical experience.

What Head Trick Theatre may lack in name recognition, they more than make up for in enthusiasm and originality. It will be exciting to see more from them in years to come.

AS YOU LIKE IT runs through August 30th

Runtime: two hours with a 10 minute intermission, suggested donation $5

For more information, visit or

Pictured (L to R) Christine Pavao, Rebecca Magnotta, Tom Duke, Katie O'Rourke, Shawn Fennell, Lexie Lankiewicz.

Photo credit: Rebecca Maxfield

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