Monday, September 24, 2012

A Likable Introduction: Ten Thousand Things' 'As Your Like It' a show for Shakespeare devotees and novices alike


In the world of Twin Cities drama, no one does guerilla theater better than Ten Thousand Things Theater Company.
Performing in prisons, church basements, book shops and more, TTT delivers low cost (or free, if you're quick enough to reserve tickets at select performances) and high quality theater to locations all over the Twin Cities.
If their beautiful fulfillment of their mission weren't enough, TTT also proves how beneficial it can be to move theater outside of its traditional trappings and rethink its possibilities. Because of the transience of their performance locations and their “lost” income from subsidizing ticket sales, the company must perform with the sparest amount of costume and set pieces possible.
What's amazing is that the lack of traditional sparkle is hardly noticeable in their performances. Without the distractions of lavish props that large production budgets can create, it is more imperative than ever for audiences to understand and be captivated in every word and gesture, and TTT delivers.
Ten Thousand Things works with scripts of all stripes, but it is particularly adept with Shakespeare. The company  manages not only to convey the plots well, but continues to make 500-year-old jokes rib-crackingly funny, a true feat with audiences who can find Shakespeare hard to understand or intimidating.
Their current production of As You Like It, at Open Book, continues in this tradition. Like many of Shakespeare's other plays, As You Like It describes the plight of exiled nobles who flee from their home on pain of death. It also throws in a love story between one of these nobles, Rosalind (a feisty Maggie Chestovich), and Orlando (serious Randy Reyes), a fellow exile. The lovers endure longing for each other while on the run and in disguise, but are happily reunited and joined together by the end of the show.
Taking the bold step of drastically cutting Shakespeare (which is hard to find in most companies), TTT pared down the original script to a clippy two hours, intermission included, without losing the story's integrity.
Aimee Bryant (recently seen as Motormouth Maybelle at Chanhassen Dinner Theater's production of Hairspray) is wonderful as Rosalind's best friend Celia, as well as the banished Duke's musical friend Amiens. The simple melodies she croons while walking through the forest are somber and evocative, and she gives a wonderful performance.
Bradley Greenwald (who strongly resembles St. Paul-born actor Christopher Sieber) plays multiple roles, including country wench Audrey; the Duke; and Charles, the Duke's wrestler. He excels at each, particularly as Audrey. Greenwald performs pitch-perfect humor, making one wonder how many jokes in other, less lively Shakespeare productions go unappreciated.
Reyes and Chestovich lack the comedic and emotive prowess of the supporting actors, but still give solid performances that render the plight of their characters relatable.
This production, as are many from Ten Thousand Things, is an excellent introduction to Shakespeare for audiences who are intimidated by it. It's also delightful for aficionados who want to experience the Bard outside of traditional performance settings.
If you want to go, make sure to snap up tickets early – they go fast.
+ Ten Thousand Things’ production of ‘As You Like It’ continues through March 11. For more information visit tenthousandthings.org.