Saturday, June 28, 2014

NYC Outdoor Theater: As You Like It


This year marks the 15th Anniversary Summer Season for the New York Classical Theatre, which describes itself as "panoramic theater," a genre of theater characterized by "blurring the lines between the audience and the performer." 

The word "panoramic" is fitting, inasmuch as the actors work outdoors in public space and have no set stage. A raised stage, of course, would frame the action and focus the attention of the audience. With New York Classical Theatre performances, however, the audience moves from scene-to-scene, as directed by an actor, and may choose to expand her/his panorama of vision well beyond the restrictive limits of a normal stage.

From time to time, the audience may be treated to a few children playing in the background, behind the scene being performed, or it may become aware that some park promenaders have happened upon the play and joined its audience. In outdoor settings, these unplanned encounters operate like enhancements, not interruptions, and add a level of reality to the artifice that normally characterizes the staged play.

In essence, the New York Classical Theatre's "panoramic theater" operates as a reversal of the effect of artifice sought by the later 18th century British traveler and landscape connoisseur, who would come upon a landscape scene, take out a Claude Glass and view the scene through this device.  The Claude Glass would allow the viewer to frame (and thus limit) the panorama as well as alter (and reduce) its tonal composition by means of the tinted glass or a smoked mirror. 

In other words, the 18th century connoisseur sought to order and control nature's vastness by means of limiting it to a stage-set. The New York Classical Theatre seeks to eliminate the normal proscenium and side walls and expand the stage into whatever nature is available in its urban settings.





NY Classical Theatre, Shakespeare's As You Like It, Central Park, June 20, 2014: Audience & Dog in the "Forest of Arden"

This scene, from mid-way through the play, captures the informality of "panoramic theater." Bring your blankets, your picnic basket, your children and entire family, and even your dog, as we see in the foreground left. This scene is from Act 4, Scene 1, with Rosalind (disguised as Ganymede) and Orlando. 

The setting for this particular scene is around west 100th Street, a part of Central Park between The Pool and the western edge of North Meadow. Among the New York Classical Theatre performance venues are Central Park, Prospect Park in Brooklyn, Battery Park, the World Financial Center, both in Lower Manhattan, and Governors Island.

As You Like It has one more day in Prospect Park (Sunday, June 29, 7:00-9:00 pm). It then concludes in Battery Park from July 1 to July 27.




NY Classical Theatre, Shakespeare's As You Like It, Central Park, June 20, 2014: Touchstone & Celia

Here, from Act 1, Scene 2, we see the court jester, Touchstone, played by John Robert Armstrong, and Celia (Duke Frederick's daughter), played by Connie Castanzo.




NY Classical Theatre, Shakespeare's As You Like It, Central Park, June 20, 2014: Celia, Orlando & Rosalind




NY Classical Theatre, Shakespeare's As You Like It, Central Park, June 20, 2014: Duke Frederick, Touchstone, Charles & Orlando

Also from Act 1, Scene 2, are these two photos. The top one has Rosalind (on the right) gazing at and already smitten by Orlando.  Orlando is the male lead, the youngest son of a courtier (now dead) and the target of jealous mis-treatment by his older brother, Oliver. Rosalind is the daughter of Duke Senior, who has been exiled from the court by his usurper brother, Duke Frederick.

The bottom photo shows the end of a wrestling match, in which Orlando was to be badly beaten by the court wrestler, Charles. Instead, Charles lies vanquished, Orlando faces the buildings of Central Park West, arms upraised (in disbelief?), while the usurper Duke Frederick looks on from our left.

Nick Salamone plays Duke Frederick, Ian Antal plays Orlando, Daniel Patrick Smith plays Charles, and Rin Allen plays Rosalind.




NY Classical Theatre, Shakespeare's As You Like It, Central Park, June 20, 2014: Rosalind & Celia

In this scene, Act 1, Scene 3, the two cousins meet in a room in the palace and discuss Rosalind's new-found affection for Orlando as well as plot their escape from the oppression of Duke Frederick's wrath. He now also has banished Rosalind: "Thou art thy father's daughter; there's enough."

They will go into the Arden Forest, but since that would be dangerous for two young women--"beauty provoketh thieves sooner than gold," as Rosalind notes--she will disguise herself as a young man, Ganymede, and Celia as a poor lady, Aliena.




NY Classical Theatre, Shakespeare's As You Like It, Central Park, June 20, 2014: Adam & Orlando

Because Orlando's older brother wants him dead, Orlando, too, will escape to the Forest of Arden.  His devoted, but old and weak servant, Adam, helps him to flee and joins him on the arduous journey.  Adam is played by Jackson Demott Hill. This would be Act 2, Scene 3, in which the loyal Adam says, "Master, go on, and I will follow thee, To the last gasp, with truth and loyalty."




NY Classical Theatre, Shakespeare's As You Like It, Central Park, June 20, 2014: Aliena & Touchstone

Touchstone, giving Aliena (the disguised Celia) a ride on their forest journey. This would be Act 2, Scene 4, possibly where Celia says, "I pray you, bear with me; I cannot go no further," and Touchstone replies, "For my part, I had rather bear with you than bear you; yet I should bear no cross if I did bear you, for I think you have no money in your purse."




NY Classical Theatre, Shakespeare's As You Like It, Central Park, June 20, 2014: Jacques & Duke Senior

The Forest of Arden becomes the setting for much of the rest of the play.  It is here that the exiled Duke Senior lives in a cave, yet thriving and making the most of his rural "Eden." Jacques, one of Duke Senior's noblemen who had accompanied him in exile, is the Duke's opposite--a morose and melancholic cynic. Before long, Orlando and Adam will meet and join them as forest dwellers.

Duke Senior is played by Christopher Cass. Jacques is played by Clay Storseth.

In this scene, from Act 2, Scene 7, we hear one of the truly memorable passages from Shakespeare, as uttered by that melancholic philosopher, Jacques, about the role of the human being in this world: 


All the world's a stage,
And all the men and women merely players:
They have their exist and their entrances:
And one man in his time plays many parts...




NY Classical Theatre, Shakespeare's As You Like It, Central Park, June 20, 2014: Jacques

Jacques, awaiting his entry into Act 3, Scene 3.




NY Classical Theatre, Shakespeare's As You Like It, Central Park, June 20, 2014: Jacques, Touchstone & Audrey

Act 3, Scene 3: Here is Jacques uttering one of his slightly disdainful asides in regard to the conversation between Touchstone and Audrey. Audrey is played by Emily Verla.




NY Classical Theatre, Shakespeare's As You Like It, Central Park, June 20, 2014: Aliena & Ganymede

I am guessing that I took this photo from what may have been the end of Act 4, Scene 1. If so, it is likely where Ganymede tells Aliena, "I cannot be out of the sight of Orlando: I'll go find a shadow and sigh till he come," to which her cousin responds, "and I'll sleep."




NY Classical Theatre, Shakespeare's As You Like It, Central Park, June 20, 2014: Finale

The final scene, after all lovers have been married and other family disputes happily resolved.  As you can see, the last scenes take us past sunset, so the faces of any speaking actor are lit by flashlights, held by Theatre assistants sitting in the front rows.

Clearly, the audience has not petered out. The acting is wonderful and the experience so enticing that almost all stay to the final bows, even though the seating is anything but plush. 

The actors will now pass collection baskets to seek appreciative donations, but this remains one of those rarities--free theater in New York City.  As the Village Voice highly recommends, "Going to a performance of New York Classical Theatre should be on everyone's annual to-do list." Look for As You Like It tomorrow night (Sunday) in Brooklyn or most of next month in Battery Park, Lower Manhattan.




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