DE PERE, Wis. (WFRV) – Bad news/good news:
Bad: The campus mask protocol for COVID-19 concerns creates a listening challenge for the St. Norbert College Theatre Studies production of William Shakespeare’s “As You Like It.”
Good: The well-prepared players stay true to their characters, who are quirky and shifty and calculating for sure. Most characters are love smitten to boot.
Director Stephen Rupsch and his collaborative corps bring the story to contemporary times, placed in Chicago and an Up North. Scene setting tells some of the story. First, black and white are featured, notably on large squares on the stage floor; I thought of a checker board and how characters are moved around – switching male/female and female/male roles. The move to Up North (Arden) comes with a pastoral floor and billowing white fabric above lighted as if of cloud movement.
The time is current. The clothing says so – much contemporary wear, with special touches like dash in a jacket for Touchstone and red-and-black flannel for the hickish William.
Shakespeare’s story is 1,000 interlocking pieces that are sometimes hard to fit with gender switches, notably by Rosalind (Alex Gruber). Stirring flight is Duke Frederick (Spencer Catalano), and swept into turmoil are Orlando (Maria Miller), Celia (Robin Wylie) and people attached to them. These roles have a lot of vigor to them, full of expressions and gestures that speak volumes as they create personas. The performances give a sense that the players enjoy climbing into the colorful personalities.
Important is the philosophical Jaques (Steve Westergan), who delivers one of Shakespeare’s most-quoted lines: “All the world’s a stage,” which is followed by a telling monolog about stages of a life.
Music plays a role. Anton Maslowski opens the performance singing a song in the spirit of romance, adventure and storytelling. The song creates an atmosphere. In the end, the entire cast sings this wafting flow of pleasure.
Creative: Playwright – William Shakespeare; director – Stephen Rupsch; scenographer – April Beiswenger; operations director – Paul Mashl; technical director – Corey Pinchart; assistant technical director – Brittney Fritz; stage manager – Sunnie Grahn
Orlando – Maria Miller
Adam/Amiens – Anton Maslowski
Oliver/Corin – A.J. Wetenkamp
Rosalind – Alex Gruber
Celia – Robin Wylie
Touchstone – Taylor Donoval
Duke Frederick/Duke Sr./William – Spencer Catalano
Le Beau/Lord/Jacques De Boys – Ben Kim Paplham
Charles/Silvius – Natalie Elfner
Jaques – Steve Westergan
Audrey – Jacinta Maslanka
Phoebe – Sinclair Robbins
Running time: One hour 58 minutes
Remaining performances: 7:30 p.m. Nov. 11-13
THE VENUE: The 190-seat Neil and Mary Webb Memorial Theatre is the smaller of two theaters in St. Norbert College’s Abbot Pennings Hall of Fine Arts. The space has an amphitheater feel with its sloped seating area. The stage is one-of-a-kind thrust stage, meaning it “thrusts” into the audience space. A traditional proscenium stage has a flat front and usually has curtains. A trust stage rarely uses curtains. People in front rows can practically reach out and touch performers when the performers are on the stage lip. Any seat in the theater is close to the action.
THE PEOPLE: Neil and Mary Webb were husband and wife. Neil Webb was president of St. Norbert College from 1973 to 1983. He earlier headed the St. Norbert psychology department. He left academics for a while before becoming president of Dominican College in California. In December 1987, Neil and Mary Webb died in an airplane crash in California in an act of sabotage by a disgruntled employee of the airline. That was shortly before the Hall of Fine Arts was to be remodeled with a small theater in the plans. Neil Webb had many friends in the greater Green Bay community and had the reputation, so his name was used to raise funds for the theater.