After a successful Fringe Festival run with Tis Pity She’s a Whore, newly founded Bear & Co. holds their first full summer production with Shakespeare’s As You Like It, a story about love with a hint of mistaken identity. Should you see it?
It’s love at first sight, repeatedly.
As You Like It is one of Shakespeare’s romantic comedies[1. I don’t believe anybody, Shakespeare included, likely filtered his works into an actual romcom category.]. As with all his good romcoms, As You Like It starts with a random meeting between boy and girl – in this case, Orlando and Rosalind – who instantly fall in love. Then, independently of one another, Orlando and Rosalind are banished and forced into exile. Both Orlando and Rosalind – now pretending to be a man named Ganymede – end up in the Forest of Arden. Eventually they find one another again.
This is Bear & Co.’s first full summer production (following the wildly successful Fringe production of Tis Pity She’s a Whore) and they’ve just come off a month of touring Ottawa’s parks to finish off their run in Arts Court Theatre. Which is the first problem I had with As You Like It.
The first twenty-ish minutes of As You Like It takes place in the lobby of Arts Court theatre – set up as theatre of the round, with seating fully surrounding the play area. The problem is that the acoustic quality in the lobby is horrible and, particularly when the actors were loud or not directly facing you, it was really hard to hear them properly. A lot of lines were unclear meaning details, crucial in this establishing part of the play, were easy to miss.
When I say that that was the “first problem”, I really mean “only problem” because once the show moves into the theatre proper (also set up ¾ in the round), it proves to be a very entertaining show with a really wonderful cast and I have nothing but positive to say.
Bear & Co. has updated the setting of As You Like It to a 50s-ish backdrop, turning characters into a band of musicians. What particularly works about this is the incorporation of wonderful old-timey music that populates scene changes and other moments. I loved the music, and Tim Oberholzer could have spent twice the amount of time singing during the play and I’d have been more than happy to listen.
Many of the cast take on multiple roles which can cause a touch of confusion, but for the most part they’re all distinct enough that everything is easy to follow (even with the lobby problem). Most everybody in the cast was largely all stand-out and carried themselves well. Anna Lewis is an excellently captivating Rosalind. Other notables include Tim Oberholzer, Danielle Savoie (whose scenes as Phebe – in love with Rosalind while thinking she’s a he – are particular highlights) and Leslie Cserepy (the only actor I could hear clearly 100% of the time in the lobby).
It’s a strange story structurally but in the end, As You Like It was a lot of fun, and, really, who can not like a play that ends with a quadruple wedding?
UPDATE: As of publishing there wasn’t one more show as I’d thought. Just the matinée, Sunday. Hope you got to see it while you could!
What did you think? Did you get out to see As You Like It in the parks? How did Bear & Co. do? Let me know in the comments below. I’d like to hear what you think.
Disclosure: I’ve worked with both Danielle Savoie and Leslie Cserepy before so while my comments are genuine, feel free to take them with a grain of bias.
Photos for this article taken for Production Ottawa by Production Ottawa photographer, David Pasho.