The ever-adventuresome Burning Coal Theatre Company, whose Henry V on Trapeze was by far the best local production of 2011, works its theatrical magic once again with a high-spirited presentation of William Shakespeare’s early pastoral comedy As You Like It, performed with brio by a stellar seven-member cast, under the direction of Davidson College professor Mark Sutch. The inspired contributions of set designer Natalie Hart of Elon University, lighting designer Chris Popowich of Pittsburgh, costume designer Jane Stein of Virginia Tech University, and properties creator Elizabeth Newton of Raleigh also contribute to the merriment.
Jade Arnold cuts a handsome figure as young Orlando, much abused by his ambitious older brother Oliver (Jeff Aguiar), who is currying the favor of the odious usurper Duke Frederick (Tom McCleister). Arnold also plays luchador-masked wrestler Charles, whom Orlando humbles in a hilarious match as Arnold wrestles himself.
After vanquishing Charles, much to the consternation of the Duke Frederick’s court, Orlando flees to the Forest of Arden, where the rightful ruler, Duke Senior (also played by Tom McCleister), is living in exile with a few of his loyal followers.
Meanwhile, Duke Senior’s daughter Rosalind (the luminous Rebecca Bosson) and her BFF, Duke Frederick’s daughter Celia (Lori Mahl), decide to run away, too, in the company of the court fool Touchstone (John Allore).
These six imaginative and resourceful actors plus Steph Scribner — who plays LeBeau, Audrey, and Jaques De Boys — each impersonate multiple Shakespearean characters with warmth and wit.
Jade Arnold is terrific as the lovelorn Orlando, who falls in love with Rosalind at first sight and proceeds to write love poem after love poem and paper the trees in the Forest of Arden with his poems praising Rosalind’s virtues.
Rebecca Bosson, who is a newcomer to the Raleigh stage, is altogether delightful as Rosalind; and she shows great promise to rise to the top of the Triangle theatrical firmament.
Lori Mahl is likewise amusing Celia and shepherdess Phebe, who falls for Rosalind (disguised as a boy) and disdains the romantic overtures of the lowly shepherd Silvius (Jeff Aguiar). Tom McCleister is alternately admirable and odious in his dual roles as Duke Senior and Duke Frederick, Jeff Aguiar is hissable as Oliver and hilarious as Silvius, John Allore is delightful as Touchstone, and Steph Scribner is amusing as the motley fool’s shepherdess sweetie Audrey.
Burning Coal’s rollicking rendition of As You Like It has other virtues too numerous to list here. Suffice it to say that the small professional theater located adjacent to the Historic Oakwood Section of downtown Raleigh burnishes its reputation as one of the area’s finest interpreters of Shakespeare with light-and-lively productions such as this one. Bravo!
SECOND OPINION: Dec. 5th Durham, NC Independent Weekly review by Glenn McDonald (who awarded the show 3.5 of 5 stars): http://www.indyweek.com/indyweek/a-featherweight-tone-in-burning-coals-as-you-like-it/Content?oid=3208321; Dec. 4th Raleigh, NC News & Observer review by Roy C. Dicks: http://www.newsobserver.com/2012/12/04/2524455/7-actors-play-22-shakespeare-parts.html; and Dec. 3rd Raleigh, NC BroadwayWorld.com Raleigh review by Larissa Mount: http://raleigh.broadwayworld.com/article/BWW-Reviews-Burning-Coals-AS-YOU-LIKE-IT-20121203. (Note: To read Triangle Arts & Entertainment’s online version of the Nov. 30th Triangle Theater Review preview by Robert W. McDowell, click http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/2012/11/burning-coal-will-present-william-shakespeares-pastoral-comedy-as-you-like-it-nov-29-dec-16/.)
Burning Coal Theatre Company presents AS YOU LIKE IT at 7:30 p.m. Dec. 8, 2 p.m. Dec. 9, 7:30 p.m. Dec. 13-15, and 2 p.m. Dec. 16 in the Burning Coal Theatre at the Murphey School Auditorium, 224 Polk St., Raleigh, North Carolina 27604.
TICKETS: $25 ($15 students and active-duty military personnel and $20 seniors), except $5 Student Rush Tickets (sold at the door, 5 minutes before curtain), $10 Thursdays, and $15 per person for groups of 10 or more.
BOX OFFICE: 919-834-4001 or http://www.etix.com/.
VIDEO PREVIEW: http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=GHroCDn4oR4.
As You Like It (background): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/As_You_Like_It (Wikipedia).
As You Like It (e-text): http://etext.lib.virginia.edu/toc/modeng/public/ShaAYLF.html (1623 First Folio Edition text, courtesy the University of Virginia Library).
As You Like It (study guide): http://www.bard.org/education/studyguides/AsYou/likeit.html (Utah Shakespeare Festival).
William Shakespeare: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Shakespeare (Wikipedia).
Mark Sutch: http://www3.davidson.edu/cms/x23187.xml (Davidson College).
Robert W. McDowell is editor and publisher of Triangle Theater Review, a FREE weekly e-mail theatrical newsletter that provides more comprehensive, in-depth coverage of Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill theater than all of the other news media combined. This review is reprinted with permission from Triangle Theater Review.
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To read all of Robert W. McDowell’s Triangle Theater Review previews and reviews online at Triangle Arts & Entertainment, click http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/author/robert-w-mcdowell/.