Last Saturday night, our friend Sam Gibbs produced a Shakepeare’s Birthday Afterparty Sonnet Remix that was a true artistic success. ( We will be featuring a story on that soon…) To know Sam’s work better, we invited our friend Eli Y. Jack,(http://west-parkpress.blogspot.com/2015/04/guest-blog-owls-are-not-what-they-seem.html) who Pastor Brashear persuaded to venture out to Brooklyn with him, to reflect on Sam’s recent production of As You Like It with his fledgling Stairwell Theatre Company.
AS YOU LIKE IT by the Stairwell Theatre Company (Hitting the like button…)
On a beautiful late May afternoon, Brooklyn’s Prospect Park Music Pagoda was the perfect place to see the Stairwell Theatre Company’s production of As You Like It. This was also a great way to begin New York City’s annual Shakespeare in the (every) Park season when almost every night you can find live Shakespeare in a park near you.
The first test of any Shakespeare production is language, and as directed by Sam Gibbs, Stairwell met that challenge. (As they had in their premiere production of Cymbeline at West-Park.)There was no adjustment period so typical of these productions, where the audience has to attune their ear to the rhythm and flow of Shakespeare. From the start, the cast handled the language in a way that sounded easy and natural and immediately comprehensible. Everything else follows from there.
For AYLI, you also need strong support in secondary characters like the melancholy Jaques and the motley fool Touchstone. One always holds their breath waiting for the all the world’s a stage soliloquy and Theodore Caywood, in the midst of the audience, delivered, once again with a natural sense that these words were coming to him in the moment, fresh and new, not like a well rehearsed dramatic aria. Devin Doyle brought both a feeling of mischief and wisdom to his Touchstone.
Gibbs’ 8 member cast was uniformly solid while doubling, tripling and even quadrupling roles. This juggling of roles, cleverly divided, led to some breathless anticipation of what would happen which was rewarded in a way that felt amusing but not distracting in the last scene. Ariana Karp was commanding as the dukes. Su Thomas Hendrickson made her two women distinctly different characters as the ingénue Rosalind and the earthy Audrey. Ellen Heald in the sidekick Celia role and the shepherdess Phoebe had equal success. And to Gibbs credit, his country characters never fell into the Hee haw place that always shows lack of directorial effort.
Andrew Colford, Leighton Samuels and director Gibbs himself all carried their multiple roles well. Samuels playing Sir Oliver Martext as a rabbi complete with a mazel tov glass breaking moment was a nice touch.
The Pagoda setting was used well with action taking place in front of, in back of and in the middle of the audience. The lawn in front of the stage was well used with no lines lost by distance. And having the audience write love notes to be posted on the trees was engaging without being overcute. The same economy used in casting was also evident in costuming and other production values as simple but not cheap.
And a very special asset to both Stairwell productions I have seen is the original music created by Matthew Gibbs.
Prospect Park with its own carousel, picnic grounds and winding pathways is what Sunday afternoons are made for. I’ve seen AYLI’s light and AYLI’s dark with a brooding Touchstone and the ….rain that raineth everyday…This Stairwell was bright, breezy and warm as a sunny May afternoon in the park.