Let’s go in reverse order.
The first annual Bard Fest got rolling this week with three full productions by three separate companies with side attractions rounding out the schedule. I made it to Carmel for just one, the Sunday’s matinee of First Folio’s “As You Like It,” and if that production is indicative of the overall quality, I regret having to miss the other shows and look forward to the future of this new fest.
“As You Like It” is one of Shakespeare’s warmest comedies. Oh, there are bad guys and banishment and all that, but its heart beats with forgiveness and a tolerance for human folly, elements stressed by director Lauren Briggeman and her cast of 15.
More, perhaps, than any Shakespeare play, “As You Like It” works best when audiences find themselves wanting to be a part of its world, to be among these good people in the Forrest of Arden. Nowhere was that feeling more true than in this production’s beautiful act one closing—partially Shakespeare/partially imposed—in which, Orlando (Adam Tran) gets a gentle lesson in humility from Duke Senior (Doug Powers), Amiens (Rayanna Bibbs) beautiful serenades her friends, the melancholy Jaques (Tristan Ross) tells of the ages of man leaving no doubt that he’s speaking extemporaneously, and a frail Adam (David Mosedale) arrives as a barely living reminder of “the last scene of all” that Jaques just spoke of. It added up to one of the most emotionally effective scenes I’ve seen in any local Shakespeare production.
Not everything in the production rises to that level—and one shouldn’t arive at the compact Studio 15 Theatre expecting more on the technical side that one would find in an average fringe fest show—but there’s plenty here for first-timers as well as Shakespeare vets. For instance, I’m no Bard scholar, but having seen multiple productions and a few filmed version of “As You Like It,” I never quite appreciated how admirable Celia is. Sure, it’s really Rosalind’s play (and Kelsey Leigh Miller is solid in the part). But Celia (here played by Devan Mathias) is the one who acts unselfishly, opting to leave the comfort of the kingdom when her pal is banished. Both actresses leave no doubt of their deep, truthful friendship.
Bard Fest runs through Oct. 18.
For seven years now, Indianapolis City Ballet has brought truly world-class dancers to town for its annual benefit. This year was no exception.
Highlights of the Oct. 3 performance at Clowes Hall included the intimate short “On the Water” featuring American Ballet Theatre’s Gillian Murphy and James Whiteside, a tantalizing piece of the recent New York revival of “On the Town” with New York City Ballet’s Georgina Pazcoguin and Broadway dancer Tyler Hanes (I wish Indy audiences could see that full production, which is heading out on tour shortly), and the pas de deux from “Don Quixote” offered by the Bolshoi Ballet’s Evgenia Obraztsova and Vladislav Lantratov in all its show-offy glory.
Mixing things up a bit, ICB broke up the program with appearances by ballroom dance champs Denys Drozdyuk and Antonina Skobina and crowd-pleasing showcases by dancers from its Indianapolis International Ballet Competition, the focus of much of the company’s recent work.
My personal favorite: Misa Kuranaga of the Boston Ballet, filling in on short notice for the Act II pas de deux from “Giselle.” Paired with American Ballet Theatre’s Daniil Simkin, she not only brought outstanding technique, but also an otherworldly characterization to the piece the brilliantly drew us into the drama.
The dirt-under-the-fingernails characters of John Steinbeck’s “The Grapes of Wrath” and “Of Mice and Men” have proven themselves on stage as well as on paper. See a good production of either and you might think that translating a great work of American literature to the stage is easy.
But great books tend to be great not just because of their plot and characters. Style and rhythm are also key. Miss those on stage (or on film, for that matter) and you have the theatrical equivalent of a Classics Illustrated comic book—useful, perhaps and possibly even entertaining, but still in the shadow of its true self.
The Indiana Repertory Theatre handsome production of “The Great Gatsby” (as adapted by Simon Levy from F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel) has got a fine performance by Zach Kenney as Nick Caraway, capturing the characters mix of amused and uncomfortable—sometimes simultaneously. It’s got an effectively awkward second act scene where the temperature rises and awkward truths come out. It features the let’s-see-him-again IRT debut of David Folsom as Tom Buchanan. And it’s got strong period costumes and moves at a brisk pace.
“The Great Gatsby,” though, is largely about intimacy hiding in excess—something easier to convey on the page or screen. A handful of people dancing does not a bacchic party make, even when creatively enhanced by swirling shadows. And the play doesn’t find a way to make clear why Jay Gatsby (Matt Schwader) is so fascinated by Daisy (Buchanan (Hillary Clemens) that he’d go to the extremes that he does to reconnect with her.
Given these challenges, it’s to the IRT’s credit that the production generated enough caring about its characters and story to cause audible gasps at key revelations on opening night. Clearly some of my fellow audience members weren’t paying close attention in English class.
"The Great Gatsby" runs through Oct. 25.