Dallas — One does not normally encounter luchador masks, a “deer” in Chewbaca furs, multiple selfies, USA wrestling tights, a Nerf bow and arrow set, and lusty renditions of the Carpenters’ “Close to You” at a performance of the Bard, but these are merely the everyday trappings of Shakespeare in the Bar (SITB).
As You Like It marks the fledgling group’s sixth production of taking classic plays, performing them on the patios of drinking establishments, and having serious actors execute them with little rehearsal. The back patio of Wild Detectives is their usual base of operations (at least for the first week’s performance), with the second show taking place at an alternative liquored up location. The performance reviewed took place in the beer garden of the newly established Eight Bells Alehouse (formerly The Amsterdam Bar).
As good as their As You Like It is, and it is quite so, the most exciting thing about SITB might be the kinds of crowds they continue to draw—young, passionate, and thrilled to be a part of a theatrical event. The folks who attend are not your average theatergoers, nor just Shakespeare nerds, or even patrons looking to party with the Bard merely as backdrop (I’m looking at you, Shakespeare Dallas summer audiences). SITB has tapped into a potentially new resource for live theater crowds, and that’s even more worthy of applause.
Like A Midsummer Night’s Dream (another SITB favorite), As You Like It is perfect for the outdoors. After a wrestling match (gut-busting funny here) that sends the protagonists on an exile/escape, the play is set mostly in the Forest of Arden. Orlando (Ivan Jasso) is leaving behind his tyrannical older brother Oliver (Jeffrey Colangelo in the performance reviewed). Rosalind and her friend Celia (Jenny Ledel and Katherine Bourne in alternating roles), along with the court clown, Touchstone (Abel Flores Jr.) are also on their way to Arden. Orlando pines for Rosalind, and she teaches him love in the guise of a guy’s garb. There is a subplot with a couple of shepherds, Corin (a cornpone Taylor Harris) and Silvius (Dylan Key), a shepherdess, Phebe (country vision Caitlin Glass) who spurns Silvius for Rosalind in drag, and hillbilly hottie, Audrey (Janielle Kastner in full vamp mode) who falls for Touchstone.
Strong performances are key for a production such as this that has little time, and no money for costumes, sets, lighting, or sound. They must generate their own spectacle through their words and inspired actions. They may want to drop the “barely rehearsed” caveat from their masthead though, because there is some serious dedication and time on display in these shows.
Jasso’s Orlando is the perfect mix of moxie and earnestness. Ricco Fajardo as Charles the Wrestler is hysterical as a posturing WWE bro. He has nice pipes too as he accompanies the band: DJ Taylor (trombone), Kevin Butler (guitar/ sousaphone) Ray Henninger (guitar/ trumpet), Jacob Metcalf (guitar), and Chris Hadley (drums).
Brigham Mosley as the banished Duke Senior is fabulous in furs. Katy Tye slays as Le Beau, Jacques de Boys, and the aforementioned deer. Ledel playing Shakespeare’s greatest comic heroine is a delight, and Bourne is her most perfect counterpart.
However, the performance par excellence belongs to SITB stalwart, Marcus Stimac as the melancholy lord, Jacques. He is a beret- and sunglasses-wearing burnout (think Dennis Hopper’s manic photographer in Apocalypse Now) who still seeks to suck the marrow out of life.
It is difficult for this play not to enchant; however, Shakespeare in the Bar takes this charmer to even new heights of poignancy, hilarity, and joy. SITB is delivering something special and rare these days—a wacky-fun, irreverent, yet ardent, take on the Bard that welcomes all into its raucous fold.
Keep watching for an announcement of SITB's next production.