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Shakespeare comes alive in Weston

Whenever I receive a news release from a Vermont theater group that contains the statement in this fresh approach to a classic comedy..., etc. or words similar I see warning signs. It is not relevant from where such a news release might come. It is the essential warning sign for newness that outstrips and obliterates the old, the tried and true, the usual settings, etc. It is frequently the watchword of the director or producer who ties the entire interpretation of a play on the presence of a single line or prepositional phrase or clause. It is deconstruction personified. Such a news release arrived from Weston Playhouse Theatre Company with regard to their production of As You Like It. Even though I consider this company to be the finest in Vermont, I couldnt help having the shudder of a negative thought a thought that occupied my mind during the two-hour drive to Weston. But why was I worrying? In the end, there was no need for me to worry. Director Brendon Fox whose background includes work at the Old Globe Theatre in San Diego admitted this was his first attempt at this particular Shakespearean play. During his pre-concert lecture, Fox made it abundantly clear that he had chosen the right path a fresh approach grounded in the music and meaning of text. Whatever appeared onstage as set or lighting or costuming needed to grow out of an understanding of the text. When I entered the theater at the conclusion of the pre-performance talk, I was greeted by a set that was comprised of a large gold and red carpet and a large gilded picture frame. The costuming was Edwardian. I settled into a comfortable chair, certain that all would be well. That indeed was the mood that stayed with me throughout the whole play. The words, as spoken by the 13 members of the cast, came glowingly to life, using every opportunity present for laughter and for tears as well. And what words they are, how magical! It mattered not the tempo of delivery what the audience heard was clearly enunciated with all of the meanings possible. It was a joy to hear Shakespeare's words so meaningfully brought to life. Markus Potter and Kate Steele were the Orlando and Rosalind of this production; to watch the pair bring the play together was remarkable. Christopher Donahue was a funny LeBeau, and a rather pensive but somewhat uncertain Jaques, and the director should have insisted that there be no repetition of defining gestures from the part of LeBeau carried over to the part of Jaques. Tom Aulino was a convincing and marvelously funny Touchstone; he turned the sometimes tedious role into the farcical wonder that it can be. Ravenna Fahey matched him in all situations word for word, gesture for gesture. Sarah Zimmerman was a marvelous Celia, and she looked and sounded perfect in the role. John Dewar, who played Adam/Corin was marvelous, and Matthew Patrick Davis made of Silvius a comedic tour de force that did not solely rely on his above-average height. William Connell was a fitting Oliver, and Phebe came to life in the hands of Amy Fitts. The only portrayals I had problems with whether casting of Amiens/Hymen as a female, and Geoffrey Wade as the two Dukes. The reason that I did not exactly agree with Wade's double casting had most to do with his portrayal of Duke Senior, which was something of a cipher as the play unfolded instead of someone who is very positive about the choices that he had made or that had been made for him. The subtlety of the direction by Brendon Fox was terrific. May we have more of his directorial magic in the future. As good as the other directors at Weston are, and as non-routine their approaches, Fox adds to the stable of fine directors... After a run at the Weston Playhouse, the production will be traveling to area schools. For further information about the touring schedule, call Cathy Bagwell Marsh at 802-824-8167 or e-mail them at info@westonplayhouse.org. Burlington resident Dan Wolfe observes and critiques the local arts scene for the Times Sentinel. His column appears weekly.

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