Budding actors not ready for Shakespeare challenge

On Feb. 4 at the Sydney Lawrence Theater, Alaska Theatre of Youth performed “As You Like It,” Shakespeare’s farce involving love, restoration and cross-dressing. Although the teenage cast’s performance wasn’t excellent, we can commend them for attempting the classic.

Watching young people perform Shakespeare creates an inevitable dichotomy. On one hand, seeing the next generation tackle the English language’s greatest manipulator is inspiring, and their youthful energy is always a treat to see on a stage. On the other hand, the young actors’ lack of theatrical experience means they will generally attack the work with less maturity then is necessary to grasp the subtlety and soulful insight that makes Shakespeare great.

That said, the performance went as well as could be expected. The characters were portrayed with enthusiasm, but without depth; the emotions were definite, but overly simple. While all of the actors show great promise, some of the younger ones might want to wait a while before they go on stage with Shakespeare’s notoriously tough language again.

Jonathan Minton, playing Jaques, was a prime example of great potential that needs more seasoning. He slipped in and out of character throughout the play, but was right on at the most important part of the show, the famous “All the world’s a stage” speech. Minton delivered it with enough poignancy to elicit a smattering of applause from the audience in the middle of the scene.

The story revolves around an eclectic ensemble led by the quick-witted Rosalind (Rebecca Klump and Courtney Davison), daughter to the deposed Duke Senior (Dean Williams), who has been exiled by his brother Frederick (Christian Heppinstall). Rosalind is banished by Frederick, dons man’s clothes, and flees to a small town on the outskirts of the forest. Meanwhile, Rosalind’s would-be lover Orlando (Nigel Clark) is also on the run, robbed of his inheritance by his older brother who wants him dead. As luck would have it, Rosalind, Orlando and Duke Senior all converge on the same part of the forest, and Rosalind, unrecognized in her manly garb, plays a series of mind games with the hapless Orlando. Around this central story are three other couples dancing with the prospects of marriage, and it’s up to Rosalind to make it all work out.

It’s a difficult story to follow, to say the least. Numerous quick scene changes and Shakespeare’s ever-present wit give the story a breathless feeling of immediacy. Many of the opportunities to capitalize on this feeling were realized by the director and young cast. However, the language barrier reared its ugly head often, and Heppinstall (doubling as director) seemed to have trouble handling the dozen-plus people on stage at some times. These factors unfortunately led to many scenes that felt inauthentic.

The look of the show was great. Plentiful clown makeup and costumes with character traits written on them lend the production a bizarre, almost surreal feeling.

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As a learning project for the city’s budding actors, the play was probably invaluable, but if you like Shakespeare performed nearly perfect, “As You Like It” could probably be missed.