Thursday, February 28, 2013

It's Noir Before the Dawn in AS YOU LIKE IT at IWU

Shakespeare's As You Like It starts in France, at the court ruled by the usurping Duke Frederick. He's a bad guy, keeping his daughter Celia on a short leash and acting all menacing to her cousin, Rosalind, the daughter of the rightful duke.

To portray the decadent duchy, director Tom Quinn makes Illinois Wesleyan University's current production all shadowy and noir, a vision of urban American in the early 40s, the land of The Maltese Falcon (1941) and The Big Sleep (1946), where thugs wearing Fedoras do their dirty work in dark alleys and snazzy nightclubs.

That's certainly atmospheric, turning Duke Frederick into a kind of hard-boiled Dick Powell character, with Celia and Rosalind dames in high heels not unlike the Jane Greers and Joan Powells of yesteryear, and Touchstone the clown turned into a Joe E. Lewis style nightclub comic.

But once Roz and Celia go on the lam to the Forest of Arden, we lose the noir feel, instead inhabiting a free-wheeling rural landscape where the temperature is cold but the company is warm. With music and food and furs wrapped around our exiled heroes, the dark mood lifts, the season moves from winter to spring, everybody starts getting frisky, and love is in the air. Rosalind meets up with her Orlando, Touchstone romances a local lass named Audrey, and Celia even gets a late-in-the-day suitor.

Geena Barry makes a lovely Rosalind for IWU, looking just as fetching in her boys' cap and trousers as she does in the opening cocktail dress. She matches up well with Ben Mulgrew, a more boyish Orlando than most, and their faux-wooing comes off very sweet and charming.

Elaina Henderson gives Celia a lot of personality, as well, and T. Isaac Sherman shows both sides of the Dick Powell persona, giving Duke Frederick the hard guy Powell from Murder My Sweet and Duke Senior the warm, nice guy Powell from Susan Slept Here or Christmas in July.

Jacques, the gloomy philosopher with the Seven Ages of Man speech, gets a lighter touch from Ian Scarlato, who seems to be playing for laughs in his interaction with Touchstone, here played by Will Henke as a light-footed jokester in a porkpie hat.

In the ensemble, Kate Rozycki, Maggie Sheridan, Mandi Corrao and Will Greenlee do good work adding a certain wild musical streak to the proceedings. That echoes Quinn's director's notes about the wilderness within as represented by the Forest of Arden.

Overall, this is a warm, fun As You Like It, one that looks good and moves well, with lovers and lunatics at every turn.

by William Shakespeare

Illinois Wesleyan University School of Theatre Arts
McPherson Theatre

Director: Thomas Quinn
Scenic Designer: Curtis C. Trout
Costume Designers: Mariah Williamson
Lighting Designer: Stephen Sakowski
Sound Designer: Aaron Woodstein

Cast: Geena Barry, Elaina Henderson, T. Isaac Sherman, Ben Mulgrew, Zachary Wagner, Adam Wallaser, Debra Madans, Marek Zurowski, Zach Mahler, Will Henke, Kate Rozycki, Ian Scarlato, Elliott Plowman, Briana Sarikcioglu, Angela Jos, Joey Chu, Nick Castellanos, Mandi Corrao, Maggie Sheridan, Will Greenlee.

Remaining performances: February 28 and March 1-2 at 8 pm

Running time: 2:40, including one 15-minute intermission

For ticket information, click here.


  1. Sounds inviting -- I wish I lived closer so I could see it!

    I think most Rosalinds look their best dressed as a boy -- G.B. Shaw, from his 19th-century-radical viewpoint wrote that the best thing about Rosalind (aside from only speaking verse for a few minutes) was that she only wore a skirt for a few minutes, and that "the dismal effect of the change at the end to the wedding dress ought to convert even the stupidest champion of petticoats to rational dress."

    I'm haunted by an action photo of a bewitchingly beautiful Virginia McKenna as Rosalind at the Old Vic in the 50s, which I can't find online, but this posed photo at least hints at it:

  2. Great post, Julie. I want to see it now!

    Did they use a fog machine?


  3. I don't know Virgina McKenna, but she does look lovely in the picture, Jon. I thought I remembered Mariette Hartley as a special Rosalind for you? Is that right, or have I crossed my wires and my Rosalinds? I think the best Rosalind I've seen on stage may've been the first one -- an actress named Julie Greenberg in a Watteau-inspired AYLI.

    I did feel there was a bit of a disconnect in this AYLI, between the noiry court to the late fall or maybe winter forest. I'm not sure how well the noir stuff laid a foundation for the forest. But I certainly did like the furry coats and hats once they got there.

    No fog machine, but it was VERY chilly inside McPherson Theatre. Like, freezing. Probably why the fur looked so inviting!

  4. Virginia McKenna did several British movies in the 50s, but her big screen moment was probably "Born Free" (opposite her husband Bill Travers). And during the 5 years in which the Old Vic did the complete Shakespeare, she was their ingenue for one year (including Rosalind).

    My big crush on Mariette Hartley stems from her Helena in "A Midsummer Night's Dream," American Shakespeare Festival on tour in 1961. She had also done several other Shakespeare roles by then, and she was only 20.

    AYLI does lend itself to a Watteau look (the upper crust playing at being shepherds and all that). There was a famous one like that at the Old Vic c. 1940, in which Edith Evans (already 40, and never a conventional beauty) portrayed what must have been an absolutely magical Rosalind. People were still talking about it with stars in their eyes 50 years later.

  5. Minor correction, it was in 1936 and she was 48.

    And she was so bewitching that her costar Michael Redgrave had an affair with her during the run (despite being married to Rachel Kempson, and being primarily attracted to men).