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Review Thu Jan 20 2011

Review: As You Like It @ Chicago Shakespeare Theater

ASYO_Image2.jpg
Disguised as the young man Ganymede, Rosalind (Kate Fry, center) listens to Orlando (Matt Schwader) unwittingly proclaim his love for her as Celia (Chaon Cross) looks on in amusement, in Chicago Shakespeare Theater's As You Like It. Photo credit: Liz Lauren

There's something about hearing lines of dialogue spoken out loud for the first time that I've seen in print a thousand times that gives me a direct sense of connection to the past. Before last Saturday's performance, I'd never seen Shakespeare's As You Like It, but I'd heard this line countless times: "All the world's a stage." Hearing it come from an actor standing less than twenty feet from me on an actual stage (Ross Lehman in the role of Jaques) made me realize how clever the line really is, and how little the English language has changed since the 1600's.

The piece is filled with all the cross-dressing and mistaken identities that you'd expect in a Shakespeare comedy, and is amazing to watch unfold on the intimate stage of the Chicago Shakespeare Theater, which is modelled after the Royal Shakespeare Company's Swan Theatre. The set design is both spare and sufficient, and everything from the lighting to the fight choreography lets you know that you're in professional hands. Every inch of the theater space is used, including the aisles and the overhangs; this is no sleepy performance, the action moves in fast and sometimes unexpected directions, the actors so close to the audience that at times I could have reached out and touched them.

Kate Fry and Matt Schwader play opposite each other as Rosalind and Orlando, the energy in their performance making their characters' situations relatable. The entire cast was fantastic, but if I had to pick a favorite, it would be Ross Lehman in the role of Jaques, who stole the scene every time he set foot on stage. I don't know much about Shakespeare, most of my theatergoing involves low-rent productions at BYOB venues, but I was transported to another place during the time I spent watching As You Like It. The Chicago Shakespeare Theater is one of the few parts of Navy Pier I'd never been to, and walking through the space made me feel like I'd just discovered something wonderful about my home town that I'd never known before.

As You Like It runs through March 6 at the Chicago Shakespeare Theater, 800 East Grand Avenue. Tickets are $44-$75 with discounts available for groups of 10 or more. For tickets and information call 312-595-5600 or visit Chicago Shakespeare Theater.

 
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