Tuesday, July 27, 2010

"As You Like It"

Shakespeare troupe brings 'As You Like It' to Island Park, Geneva
By Rachel Baruch Yackley | Daily Herald correspondent
Published: 7/15/2010 12:01 AM

All ages are invited to experience a unique take on the Shakespeare comedy classic, "As You Like It," when Geneva's annual Shakespeare in the Park brings the Midsummer Theatre Troupe back to Island Park Saturday.

Sit back on your blanket, enjoy your picnic dinner, and watch Rosalind, the daughter of a banished duke, fall in love with Orlando, the disinherited son of one of the duke's friends.

When Rosalind is banished from the court by her uncle, Duke Frederick, she disguises herself as a boy, and travels with her cousin Celia and the jester to the magical Forest of Arden, where her father and his friends live in exile. Never fear: a happy ending is guaranteed for all.

Performed outdoors on a stage surrounded by the beauty of Island Park, this performance will entertain and delight viewers with unique characterizations and unexpected twists.

A touch of Cirque du Soleil even comes into play, thanks to the creative prowess of artistic director Toni Hix.

"It's just sort of colorful, and the characters are characters, with a little bit of exaggeration," Hix said. "Once (the actors) enter the magical Forest of Arden, everything is colorful and bright."

One of Shakespeare's idiosyncrasies is his prolific use of figurative language, which can pose a problem for modern ears. To overcome what can be a disconnect for the audience, Hix has incorporated more action into the play to convey the meaning of the words "through the physicalities," she said. "I cut a lot of the descriptive passages related to mythology and to religion in Medieval times."

Hix also reduced the length of the play, limiting it to 90 minutes, and there is no intermission.

Live music will be performed during the play, the likes of which are sure to surprise and delight the audience.

Five actors will be playing ukuleles - not your typical Shakespearean instrument - and the musical selection, such as songs by John Mayer, will be like nothing you've ever heard in a show like this, before.

The configuration of the cast also differs, Hix said, as "I've condensed the cast to 12 people," although a few actors will reappear throughout the performance, after quick wardrobe changes, as more than one character.

Working together in this unique production is "really for our own enjoyment," said Hix. "I love Shakespeare so much, I just want people to like it. I love it when people come up to me and say, 'I got it!'"

As a traveling troupe, much differs from what you may expect. Tents, lights, a prop box, two benches, and sound equipment make up their set and staging equipment.

Depending on who you ask, some say an outdoor performance is the best way to enjoy Shakespeare.

"There are two different kinds of Shakespeare, outside. There's those that do it in an outdoor space with an attached building, like (the American Players Theatre in) Spring Green, Wi., and those who do it like we do," said Hix.

"I think we're the only ones who travel. We do only comedies, which are best suited for families with children, who are looking for a Ravinia-like experience."

Midsummer Theatre Troupe flourished in 2001, after getting its start as part of a troupe which used to perform in Batavia. This Shakespearean traveling theater performs one production each summer, in a few different venues.

In addition to the upcoming performance in Geneva, you can also see this comedy performed outdoors at 7 p.m. Friday, July 16 at Central Park in Naperville (free); 6 p.m. Sunday, July 18 at Cantigny Memorial Park in Wheaton ($10); and 7 p.m. July 20 and 27 at America's Historic Roundhouse in Aurora (free).

The Midsummer Theatre Troupe is fortunate to be under the leadership of Hix, who has experience as a casting director for feature films, television and live theater production in both Hollywood, Calif. and Chicago. She has been with Warner Bros., Samuel Godwin, Daystar, Touchstone, NBC and ABC/Harpo Productions, and has worked with Adrianne Barbeau, Lou Gossett, Jr., Beverly D'Angelo, Timothy Bottoms, Lou Diamond Phillips, and Danny Glover, among others. While teaching drama in L.A., she was Cuba Gooding Jr.'s sole drama teacher.

Shakespeare in the Park is hosted by the Geneva Cultural Arts Commission.

"It's one of our events," said Cultural Arts commissioner Vic Portincaso, who will also be performing as two of the characters, Sir Oliver Martext, and Lord Vic.

"This is our fourth year doing this. We hire in the troupe, and Toni does such a great job. It's geared toward families, so bring the kids and introduce them to Shakespeare," he said.

Hundreds of people have filled the park for the troupe's performances in years past, so come early, set down your blankets or chairs, and claim your spot. There is no rain date scheduled.

While you wait for the performance to start, enjoy a bite to eat or some refreshments which will be for sale in the park by Mill Race Inn, Stockholm's Restaurant, and Graham's Chocolate. Live music will also be performed before the show.

Admission is free, although a $5 donation is suggested. Seating will be on the lawn, and audience members are encouraged to bring blankets, chairs and picnics.

Island Park is along the east side of the Fox River at the intersection of State (Route 38) and Bennett streets (Route 25) in Geneva. Free parking is available at the government center on First Street. It's just a short walk on the covered bridge across the river to Island Park.

'As You Like It' cast and crew
Aurora: Robert Becker, Tim Lieske, Connie Pfister, Gary Puckette, Don Reid, Colette Shelby, Todd Von Ohlen
Batavia: Peter Hix, Toni Hix, Nicolette Pollack
Chicago: Walter Bezt, Mark Brouwer
Geneva: Kristen Duerdoth, Sandy Portincaso, Vic Portincaso
Naperville: Robbie Holden, Dan McQuaid
North Aurora: Robb Cleave
South Elgin: Katrina Syrris

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