“Measure Heaped In Joy”: Bwog Reviews KCST’s As You Like It

As You Like It’s musicians performing on Math Lawn

Published on Bwog on April 29, 2017.

What better way to recover from V-123 than to go see even more student theater? That’s what Managing Editor Betsy Ladyzhets did last night, when she attended the King’s Crown Shakespeare Troupe’s midnight show (a.k.a. “drunk show”) of As You Like It. The production has one more show, which starts tonight at 8 pm on Pupin Plaza and has free admission.

I arrived at Pupin Plaza around ten minutes to midnight yesterday to watch KCST’s production of As You Like It expecting two things: first, to enjoy an engaging performance of a Shakespearean comedy, and second, to be unable to hear or understand half of the scenes.  The first of these expectations was well met, and the second completely blown out of the water – even at a performance attended by around 150 people, many of whom were drunk.  KCST delivered a show that was expert in its acting, yet fully accessible to its audience, and that submersed anyone watching completely into a fictional world where sins are forgiven, mistakes repaired, and love the highest law.

As You Like It is a romantic drama under the guise of a political drama.  It follows two young nobles, Rosalind and Orlando, as they are banished from the courts of Duke Frederick (Rosalind’s uncle) and Oliver (Orlando’s brother), respectively, and find solace in the forest of Arden.  In this forest, between shenanigans with shepherds and nobles alike, Rosalind tests Orlando’s professed love her by disguising herself as a man and attempting to berate him out of his affections.  The play ends with not one, not two, but four weddings.

After seeing a couple of KCST productions over my four semesters at Columbia, I have come to associate the troupe with acting that turns verse many would consider dense and difficult into highly energized drama.  Still, I was particularly impressed last night, as actors enunciated their lines clearly and punctuated their speeches with facial expressions and gestures in order to make the conflicts and emotions of their characters clear.  Every actor also had impressive projection abilities; I can think of maybe one or two moments at most during the show when I had a hard time hearing.  And all of the actors’ physicality served to heighten the entertainment of the show, whether it was William Cagle (CC ‘20) looming over his subordinates as a tyrannical Duke Frederick or Schuyler Van Amson (CC’ 17) kicking his heels in the air as a lovestruck Orlando.  (This physicality also helped to make all of the show’s dirty jokes abundantly obvious.)

Two actors who exemplified the show’s vivacious acting were Sophia Seidenberg (BC ‘19) and Molly Lo Re (BC ‘17), who played Rosalind and Jacques, respectively.  Seidenberg’s performance was sweet and crude, innocent and violent in equal turns.  She brought all of the complexities of Rosalind’s character to life, all without shaking the audience’s gaze.  It took no suspension of disbelief to imagine Orlando falling deeply in love with her.  Similarly, Lo Re enchanted the audience from the moment she appeared in the play – making up poetry in a tree.  Her dynamic voice and gestures brought life to her character, a melancholy lord who challenges the actions and emotions of all of those around him.  Lo Re was able to project well enough that her voice echoed off of nearby buildings, but she did not even need to use it to command attention: at one point, she got cheers for simply seductively sipping on a juice box, then dropping it to the ground.

Several minor characters heightened the entertainment and drama of the show as well, by providing a new source of comedy for the audience when speeches on love and loyalty grew tiring.  Luke Cregan (CC ‘19) was a clear audience favorite for his dedicated portrayal of Silvius, a shepherd blindly following his beloved Phoebe.  My personal favorite moment of the show was watching Yael Cohen (CC ‘19), Le Beau and an ensemble member, slowly eat pieces of a clementine in the background of a banquet (or campfire) scene, then hold it back as though lowering a weapon when the Duke stalled the feast.  And I don’t know where Patrick Liddle (GSAS ‘18) got his bag of sunflower seeds, but they helped make his character oddly endearing (and me very hungry).

Before I saw last night’s production, its dramaturg, Sylvia Korman (BC ‘18), warned me that they had made significant cuts to the original script.  However, I did not feel as though the show was hard to follow at any point, even though I had only read a very brief summary of the plot beforehand.  This scripting is representative of an overall impressive feat of As You Like It: it was incredibly accessible to its audience.  Compared to Macbeth last year, I was able to follow this show much more easily – and yes, I had an advantage because I was more sober than most of the audience and a great producer was telling me the best places to sit at each scene (shout-out to Jackie Brown, CC ‘19!), but there were many choices made by the production and tech teams this year that led to a more cohesive Shakespeare experience for everyone.  These were, most notably, location, ensemble, and music.

Spring Show is always outside, but while previous Spring Shows have ranged far and wide over Columbia’s campus, this one restricted itself; it started as a protest outside NoCo, and moved throughout upper campus to conclude at a tent outside Schermerhorn.  This smaller range of locations made it easier for the audience to follow along, as they often did not have to go far between scenes.  In addition, the locations that were chosen for certain key scenes, such as the Havemeyer lawn and the Math lawn, were spacious enough to allow for the majority of the audience to sit up close to the action.  One scene was even performed in a round!

In between scenes, the slow-moving, mostly drunk audience members had a lot of assistance in navigating to the show’s next location.  Ensemble members moved people along in creative ways: protesters would run while chanting for the ousting of Duke Frederick, or bodyguards would tell us to clear the area, or forest-dwellers would insist that everyone came away to Arden.  The show’s music was particularly effective for this purpose.  Three songs, two written by the show’s director, Sam Balzac (CC ‘17) and one adapted by a poem by Alfred Tennyson, were sung by ensemble members in between scenes as additional impetus for the audience to get going.  Brent Morden (CC ‘19) arranged all three of these tunes, as well as songs within the text of the play itself, for flute, guitar, and melodica.  This music had an ethereal quality that kept the mood of the play alive when scenes were not directly taking place, and it truly drew the audience into the world of As You Like It – especially just before the last scene, when the audience was invited to sing along to “My Rosalind.”

I was warned against reviewing the “drunk show.”  I was told that sitting with a group of slightly inebriated theater-lovers would dampen the experience.  But I found the exact opposite to be true – the audience’s heckling and cheering both challenged the actors to be even more enthusiastic in their roles, and lent the production a feeling of joy.  Many of the audience members were, I realized throughout the show, members of other theater groups on campus there to support their friends.  I even recognized several cast members of the (recently premiered) Varsity Show.  This audience was truly actively participating, yelling at Rosalind and Orlando to kiss or jeering when Jacques made a rude comment.  They did not view Shakespeare as a dead poet’s inaccessible medium, but rather as a celebration of life.  And every element of As You Like It – from the acting to the lighting to the music – served to heighten the theatrical party.

Photo via Betsy Ladyzhets

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