by William Shakespeare
Bard on the Beach
June 2-September 25

Bard on the Beach launches its 16th season of Shakespeare as a Vancouver summer institution and unequivocal commercial success, with four shows running under two tents and near sold-out houses most nights. The quality of its artistic product has also improved steadily over the past few years. So it’s surprising that, with a couple of significant exceptions, this year’s opening show is so relatively uninspired.

Like most of Shakespeare’s comedies, As You Like It takes place in both the courtly and natural worlds, with a high comic romance plot and low comic rustics who parody it. Here the sharpest commentary comes from Touchstone the clown and Jaques the melancholic philosopher, who have left the court for exile in the Forest of Arden. They are the reason for seeing this show.

With Jay Brazeau not yet returned from Toronto, David Mackay is presently the funniest actor in the city and he displays endless comic invention in the role of the citified jester. When not mocking Arden’s hicks or the courtly lovers, Touchstone mocks his own lust for the goat-herd Audrey (sweetly underplayed by Kerry Sandomirsky). Mackay’s astonishingly funny mock-killing of his country rival William (Peter Huck) is easily the high point of the evening’s long second act.

The play’s other highlight is Scott Bellis’ raffish Jaques, unshaven in a long coat and scraggly hair. Usually played as relentlessly depressive, this Jaques can be manic, playful, even charming before lapsing suddenly into bitterness. Bellis is magnetic in delivering the play’s most famous speech, the deeply cynical “All the world’s a stage.” He ends it staring off into the void with haunted eyes as a Forester (Josh Epstein) sings “Hey ho the holly, this life is most jolly” to a melancholy tune, and the play breaks for intermission.

This powerful, carefully constructed moment shows director Robert McQueen at his best. Elsewhere, he appears to leave the actors to their own devices. Lara Gilchrist and Tobias Slezak often seem adrift as the courtly lovers Rosalind and Orlando, who have to carry most of the show without much physical business. They don’t manage many sparks in their scenes together, she disguised as a boy and he making a lovesick fool of himself.

The comic country lovers, Sylvius and Phebe (David Beazely and Rebecca Auerbach), are pleasantly goofy but not terribly funny.

Gerry Mackay does strong work as the nasty Duke Senior in black leatherette. Except for a luminous black dress for Celia (a spunky Karen Rae), costumer Mara Gottler has foregone her usual gorgeous outfits for a Star Trek-ish court and Folk Festival gear for the country. The plastic leaves on the trees of Kevin McAllister’s set and a cheesy WWF-style wrestling match send equally mixed messages.

False Creek and the North Shore still give Bard an incomparable natural backdrop, though houses have crawled a little farther up the mountainside.

Jerry Wasserman

last updated: Sunday, June 19, 2005 4:14 PM
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