Theatre

Gentle breezes, crickets chirping (or whatever that sound is they make), and comfortably warm summer nights. We're here. And knowing it won't last forever, Chicagoans certainly relish the summer months, making the most of each balmy evening. And, you know it’s July when Shakespeare comes alive under the stars at Mayslake Peabody Estate in Oakbrook. Continuing their long run of Shakespeare classics, A Winter’s Tale and A Midsummer Nights Dream taking stage over the past two years, First Folio brings to life As You Like It, the rustic comedy that follows young Rosalind as she escapes to the Forest of Arden to avoid her uncle’s wrath. Rosalind is joined by her cousin Celia and the two, like in all great stories, meet many intriguing characters along their journey. Then there's Orlando, who also seeks refuge in the forest after being persecuted by his older brother, Oliver. But our hero, Orlando, is in love – with Rosalind whom he had briefly met after impressing her during a bout of strength, out wrestling her uncle’s champion, loving her at first glance.

Rosalind, disguised as a boy and Celia, dressed as a poor woman continue to trek through the forest, while at the same time Orlando, traveling with his elderly servant Adam who insisted to travel at his master’s side, does the same while obsessively carving poems of love on seemingly any tree he can find. It is when the Orlando and Adam run into the good Duke Sr. (ousted from the kingdom by the nefarious Duke Frederick) as their desperation for food brings them to her doorstep, that they are warmly taken in and soon realize that they have stumbled onto a hidden community that lives in harmony. Jaques, who plays somewhat of a confidant/friend to Duke Sr., gives us some of Shakespeare’s most famous lines when the forest is referred to as a theatre playing out its own story.

“All the world's a stage,
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances,
And one man in his time plays many parts,
His acts being seven ages. At first, the infant,
Mewling and puking in the nurse's arms.
Then the whining schoolboy, with his satchel
And shining morning face, creeping like snail
Unwillingly to school. And then the lover,
Sighing like furnace, with a woeful ballad
Made to his mistress' eyebrow. Then a soldier,
Full of strange oaths and bearded like the pard,
Jealous in honor, sudden and quick in quarrel,
Seeking the bubble reputation
Even in the cannon's mouth. And then the justice,
In fair round belly with good capon lined,
With eyes severe and beard of formal cut,
Full of wise saws and modern instances;
And so he plays his part. The sixth age shifts
Into the lean and slippered pantaloon,
With spectacles on nose and pouch on side;
His youthful hose, well saved, a world too wide
For his shrunk shank, and his big manly voice,
Turning again toward childish treble, pipes
And whistles in his sound. Last scene of all,
That ends this strange eventful history,
Is second childishness and mere oblivion,
Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.” 

As the play progresses, multiple relationships are revealed and created around Orlando’s search for his true love, Rosalind and, in the end, everything ties together just beautifully, as Shakespeare’s pen so often did.

The many performances in this humorous adventure are done with passion and zest. Nicholas Harizin as Orlando and Leslie Ann Sheppard as Rosalind lead the play’s talented cast with a fire-infused appetite, it’s outcome an honest, raw passion to which we can truly relate. The two as comfortable in their roles as I am in my favorite pajama pants. And it would be difficult to find an actor who does Shakespeare better than Kevin McKillip, whose seamless delivery as Jaques so effectively pulls out the humor in Shakespeare’s writing. Luke Daigle stands out as Orlando’s hate-filled brother, Oliver, while Belinda Bremner as Duke Sr. is nothing less than mesmerizing. The cast in its entirety is strong and one would be hard-pressed to find any shortcomings in any of the performances by its talented individuals. In the role of Amiens, Amanda Raquel Martinez even shows off her guitar and vocal skills in a handful of haunting numbers. Standing out as Hermia in last year’s A Midsummer Nights Dream, Sarah Wisterman returns this time as Phebe again impressing while Vahishta Vafadari is very funny as runaway cousin, Celia and Courtney Abbott shines as the highly energetic Touchstone.

Well directed by Skyler Schrempp, the play is yet another ode to the excitement of falling in love and the adventures that come with such a happening and the toils one will undertake in order to find his or her soulmate.

As You Like It comes highly recommended as one of this year’s best outdoor summer experiences.

Surrounded by trees and a beautiful landscape, As You Like It is being performed on the grounds of the Mayslake Peabody Estate in Oakbrook through August 20th. Guests are invited to bring chairs, blankets and picnic baskets. And just to add a final touch of comfort, bug spray is provided along with bug repellent candles. As You Like It has a running time of two hours and twenty-five minutes with one intermission. For tickets and/or more show information visit www.firstfolio.org. Enjoy!

Published in Theatre in Review

Experience one of Shakespeare’s classic romances, as First Folio Theatre (Mayslake Peabody Estate, 31st St. & Rt. 83) presents AS YOU LIKE IT, previewing July 12, opening Saturday, July 15 at 8:15p.m.and closing August 20. Set in modern day Arden and directed by Skyler Schrempp, this delightful tale whisks audiences away to another world. During the summer season, First Folio’s productions are held outside on the grounds of the gorgeous Mayslake Peabody Estate mansion, and guests are invited to bring their picnic baskets, candelabras, blankets and chairs, and wine and cheese to enjoy the productions under the stars.

A timeless story, AS YOU LIKE IT, follows Rosalind who must disguise herself as a boy to survive in the Forest of Arden. She has little hope that she will ever meet the dashing Orlando again, but the Forest is full of surprises and unexpected visitors. When Rosalind finds the exiled Orlando hanging love poems on trees, she must keep her wits about her and her identity as secret as possible. Before long, she finds herself in the midst of one of the most complicated love triangles Shakespeare ever wrote for the stage. A story of love at first sight, AS YOU LIKE IT will leave you writing on trees and looking up at the stars.

The cast of AS YOU LIKE IT is led by Leslie Ann Sheppard as Rosalind, Nick Harazin as Orlando, Vahishta Vafadari as Celia, with Luke Daigle as Oliver, Courtney Abbott as Touchstone, Kevin McKillip as Jaques, Belinda Bremner as Duke Senior, Sarah Wisterman as Phebe, Micheal Angelo Smith as Silvius, Jim Morley as Adam, Philip Winston as Duke Frederick, Evan Michalic as Charles the Wrestler, Matthew Moore as Corin, Amanda Raquel Martinez as Amiens, and Sierra Schnack as Audrey. The ensemble includes Karly Hanna, Bailey Hayman, Robin Minkens and Jared Michael Sheldon.

The artistic team includes Scenic Designer Angela Weber Miller (Dr. Seward’s Dracula at First Folio Theatre), Lighting Designer Michael McNamara (The Turn of the Screw at First Folio); Original Music and Sound Design by Christopher Kriz (Roz and Ray at Victory Gardens Theatre), Costume Designer Mieka van der Ploeg, Properties Designer Cassandra Schillo. Stage Manager is Miranda Anderson, and Sarah West and Lina Benich serve as Assistant Stage Managers.

AS YOU LIKE IT runs Wednesdays through Sundays with 8:15pm performances each evening. First Folio is easy to get to via the East-West Tollway (I-88) or the Stevenson Expressway (I-55). Free parking is available on the grounds. Preview tickets are $23. Regular priced tickets are $29 Wednesdays and Thursdays (seniors and students are $26), and $39 on Fridays through Sundays (seniors and students are $36). $10 tickets are available for children 13 and under. For Season subscriptions and tickets, call the box office at 630.986.8067 or visit www.firstfolio.org.

Published in Upcoming Theatre

On the 400th year anniversary of William Shakespeare's death Lyric Opera of Chicago appropriately chose to commemorate the famed playwright’s life by putting on an outstanding production of Romeo and Juliet. Helping to make this such a special piece of operatic theatre, Joseph Calleja and Susanna Phillips as the tragically famous lovesick couple do a magnificent job vocally and emotionally throughout the show to bring the real spirit of youthful, love at first sight to life. 

 

The show begins with the stage curtain up and the entire cast ominously moves towards the audience singing the overture which was very effective in setting the tone of the times the play is set in. 

 

Soprano Susanna Phillips, perfectly complimenting tenor Calleja, is especially great in her role. Dressed all in pink with gold sparkles, she embodies the very essence of springtime love in her opening number.  When, at one point, she begs her nanny to stop talking about her impending marriage to an older man that Juliet does not love you really want her to get her wish, as her fresh hopeful desire to just dance and enjoy life is very infectious.

 

Joshua Hopkins as Romeo’s best pal Mercutio and Jason Slayden as Juliet’s short-fused cousin Tybalt also take to their roles with vigor and precision, really capturing the two sworn enemies’ disdain for each other while baritone Christian Van Horn is well cast as Friar Laurence, who means well though his efforts only end in tragedy.   

I loved ALL the costumes by Jennifer Tipton!  The rich, fabrics and colors, her hats and accessories for the women brought the whole stage to life. Also, the swashbuckling style of leather and velvet for the men was extremely entertaining and fitting to watch both their swordplay and Romeo’s lovemaking to Juliet.

 

Michael Yeargan's unit set is foreboding and appropriately towers over the cast as if to say there is no escape from this time period and its rules. However, I was looking forward to several set changes. Instead, the central platform served as a ballroom dance floor, Friar Laurence's cell, a town square and the crypt where the young couple meet their fate. I felt this modern touch of using a single large white sheet to signify Juliet's bedroom, then the church, and the burial shroud, etc., etc., was very one dimensional. The cast, so visually stunning, is so large even the hefty set seemed to barely contain them in various scenes. Still, overall, the production is a grand spectacle that is as colorful and enchanting as it is memorable.

 

Directed with fierce and daring force by Bartlett Sher, the Tony Award-winning Broadway director who's making his Lyric debut with this French piece by Charles Gounod, Romeo and Juliet succeeds marvelously on many levels. Of course this can only be accomplished with the comprehensive orchestral conducting of Emmanuel Villaume, who leads the often powerful and sometimes dreamy soundtrack to create a truly hauntingly tragic yet beautiful experience.  The romanticism of the writing is so beautiful, so poetic, I found myself watching the screen high above the stage trying to memorize some of the pure poetry as the play went along. The lines of love and adoration spoken by Romeo and Juliet to each other were so exquisitely written, I have never seen an American adaptation of this or any love story which compares to this poetic version of the play.

 

No spoilers but there is a slight change to the ending scene that might throw off a few viewers but I still found it quite enjoyable. 

 

This is a perfect opera to take your date to for an evening of romance that will thrill and delight. Your children will love this show because it renders the story of forbidden love and the destruction of such love because of unforgiving, ignorant family feuding and brings it to life in a compassionate and ever so romantic way.

 

Romeo and Juliet is being performed at Lyric Opera of Chicago through March 19th and is sure to please the casual and more adventurous theatre and opera lovers alike. For more information on this piece so wonderfully adapted for stage, visit www.LyricOpera.org. 

 

Published in Theatre Reviews

 

 

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