“All the world’s a stage!” was the loudest exclamation in Parkland College’s black box theatre this past Thursday night during their opening performance of The Curate Shakespeare As You Like It: Being the Record of One Company’s Attempt to Perform the Play by William Shakespeare directed by Kate Riley. The long and endearingly bumbling title reflects the show in all of its confusing essence, made moreso by the fact that this play only calls for seven talented actors. These actors are tasked with playing amateur actors who are in turn tasked with playing at least six parts each in a performance of Shakespeare’s pastoral play, As You Like It, to their own imaginary audience. Of course, the audience Thursday night was anything but imaginary, guffawing at each intentional butchering of a Shakespearean line and break from Shakespearean character to ask the question of Shakespeare that we are all thinking: “What is a quotidian, anyway?”
Not just familiar with, but a fan of, Shakespeare’s As You Like It, I was perhaps uncertain upon entering the ever appropriate black-box theatre and taking my seat in the slightly elevated second of three rows. Taking in my surroundings, I was surprised at the obvious lack of props and setting with the only decoration being a ramp-like structure in the middle of the stage, painted in the same earthy camouflage as the stage’s floor. Part of the beginning of the play, it turns out, includes the company members lazily pulling various props onto the stage between snapping bored selfies and orating purposely overdone vocal warmups. With such a humorous start to the play, I immediately forgot my initial reservations and was swept into the performance with the rest of the audience.
Being a play within a play, particular kudos must be given to the cast for keeping themselves and all of their parts straight amidst the chaos. Being already a very meta and self-referential play by nature, the character of William/Orlando (Warren Garver) goes through his own identity crisis on stage, trying to explain to the company member he is crushing on how he seems to have lost sight of himself through having to play so many Shakespearean characters at once. Of course, the audience is in on the joke, and each existential profession makes us giggle harder than the last.
With the company’s current Rosalind (Carolyn Kodes-Atkinson) preferring to narrate, sing, and skip through the play blissfully oblivious, the task of playing the lead is transferred to Audrey (Krystal Moya) who does a phenomenal job convincing us that she is a nervous and unprepared wreck before wowing us with her chops as she grows more and more confident in her ever-complicated roles. Every accent that Ashton Goodly throws on to decorate and distinguish the six-plus characters he plays impresses us more than the last, as all of us who took high school English remember the pain of dredging through Shakespearean dialogue even without having to put on a non-native Southern twang. Jennifer Lee’s Celia is the ultimate conflict character, frustrated with the lack of order, actors, audience, setting, clarity, leadership and about any other lack that she interprets as a bastardization of a great Shakespearean play. Meanwhile, David Dillman’s portrayal of a sarcastic and disheveled company member just trying to get some love from his disinterested castmates is the perfect modern embodiment of the Shakespearean character he’s playing.
Despite the confusion, the anger, and the irritation that arises due to the overall lack of the company’s means to put on As You Like It, Lincoln Manchula’s character, Curate, does an incredible job reminding everyone in the audience of their favorite Uncle; the one who is funny and positive, encouraging and temperate, and overall ties the whole production within a production together grounding it in humility.
All in all, the play, which will continue to run this coming weekend, was an appropriately bumbling, endearingly and intentionally hard-to-follow and comedic look at a playwright who most certainly would have taken immense pleasure at all of the confusion he was able to inspire. Each of the seven cast members did an incredible job playing their outrageous number of roles, and there was not often a moment when daydreaming took precedence over the performance. Despite all of the slight pokes at Shakespeare that give the play so much color and the original Rosalind’s amusing senility throughout the play, she delivers an articulate and ever graceful rendition of Shakespeare’s famous “All the world’s a stage / And all the men and women merely players,” at the end that ultimately reminds us all why we love the theatre and will never stop coming back for more.
Parkland Theatre’s remaining performances of Curate As You Like It will be showing on February 25th, 26th, and 27th at 7:30 p.m. with a 3 p.m. matinee showing on Sunday, February 28th. Ticket prices are $15 for adults, $13 for students and seniors (65 and up) and $11 each for groups of 15 or more. Ticket reservations can be made online or by calling (217) 351-2528. Check out Parkland Theatre’s website for any further information about this and all other Parkland performances.
About Carly Smith:Carly is a current senior studying English at U of I. She spends her time watching campy horror movies, playing music, and hanging with her dog Archer. You can generally find her making impulse buys at Target or on Twitter.