Friday, March 25, 2011

As You Like It, American Shakespeare Center's 'Restless Ecstacy' Tour, UT

Denise Burbach as Rosalind (photo: Michael Bailey)

"Restless Ecstacy," the title of the 2010-2011 tour by American Shakespeare Center players, comes from the Scottish play, III, 2, in which the grim thane uses the phrase to describe his tormented sleeplessness after killing King Duncan. The ASC troupe didn't do their Macbeth at the University of Texas in Austin this week, but their staging of As You Like It corresponded fully to both promises of the tour title.

Noise, music, performance and joviality greeted the audience as soon as the house was opened. Big, round Rick Blunt beckoned everyone forward with the huge friendliness of a carnival barker as cast members moved freely around the shallow stage at the UT Union. Blunt kept up a cheerful patter about the troupe, about their dedication to staging in the style of Shakespeare's touring companies, about maintaining available light and engaging the audience. He quickly recruited eight audience members for the seats placed at either side of the stage, and one suspects that if there had been room for groundlings he would have enticed students into those roles.

For the half hour before starting the play, cast members strummed guitars, tapped rhythms on wooden boxes and an African djembeli drum, fingered a weathered accordian, sang pop songs and carried on like buskers as if only by chance had they arrived one week late for the restlessness of Austin's epic South by Southwest music festival. At the interval the cast stays on stage to play and sing for the full fifteen minutes, maintaining an easy companionship with the audience.

The ecstasy of their staging of As You Like It is that of infatuation, the hypnotic attraction of love.

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