Suffrage, prohibition, love & puppets in Driftwood’s charming, timely, re-imagined Rosalynde (or, As You Like It)

Ximena Huizi & Sochi Fried. Production design by Sheree Tams. Photo by Dahlia Katz.

 

Driftwood Theatre Group puts a beloved Shakespearean heroine’s name back on the marquee with its charming, timely 2018 Bard’s Bus Tour production of the re-imagined Rosalynde (or, As You Like It), directed by AD D. Jeremy Smith. It’s 1918; and women’s suffrage, prohibition and WWI are at the forefront—and so is true love. I caught Rosalynde in Toronto at Ontario Place Trillium Park last night.

The Duke’s Distillery has been taken over by Frederick (Eric Woolfe), a hard-nosed gangster who has ousted his brother Senior to take over the business and run illegal booze across Lake Ontario to the U.S. Senior has fled to the Forest of Arden, finding rustic sanctuary with a small group of loyal followers. The banished Senior’s daughter Rosalynde (Sochi Fried) has been allowed to stay, as she’s the beloved friend of Frederick’s daughter Celia (Ximena Huizi)—but when he finds public opinion favouring his niece, he banishes her as well. Armed with a plan to flee to the forest disguised as brother and sister, the two young women sneak away with the company Fool Touchstone (Geoffrey Armour) in tow.

The neglected young Orlando (Ngabo Nabea) is facing similar struggles at home with his cruel older brother Oliver (Derek Kwan). When he goes to test his mettle at a local wrestling match, he and Rosalynde become mutually smitten; and he defeats Frederick’s man Charles (puppet, Megan Miles). When his faithful old servant Adam (Armour) learns that Oliver and Frederick are plotting against Orlando’s life, he urges his young master to flee—and the two leave their home for the safety of the forest.

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Ngabo Nabea, with Ximena Huizi & Sochi Fried in the background. Production design by Sheree Tams. Photo by Dahlia Katz.

The Forest of Arden is where the magic happens. Disguised as the youth Ganymede, Rosalynde advises the love-struck Orlando, as well as the love-sick shepherd Silvius (puppet, Kwan), whose rebuffed attentions to Phebe (puppet, Miles) are thwarted further by Phebe’s new-found attraction to Ganymede. And one of Senior’s (Woolfe) friends, the world-weary, profoundly disheartened suffragette Jaques (Caroline Gillis), searches for meaning and a reason to carry on as she observes life in the forest, the unfolding love stories and a Fool out for a wife. Love, reunion, and new perspectives on life and the world unfold—and the forest inhabitants demonstrate compassion, equity and brave determination. And yet, we’re reminded that not all will partake in the new rights and opportunities that emerge during this time: men and women of colour do not yet have the right to vote; and men of colour are denied the opportunity to serve in the war.

Stellar work from the ensemble in a production that entertains as much as it illuminates. Weaving in snatches of news on the suffrage movement, prohibition and the First World War, we get the sense of a time and place immersed in great upheaval and social change. The rural natives of the forest are all puppets, as are some of Frederick’s henchmen (Eric Woolfe is also the AD of Eldritch Theatre, specializing in horror and fantasy storytelling using puppetry, mask and magic)—masterfully brought to life by various members of the cast, especially Megan Miles.

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Megan Miles as Charles the wrestler. Production design by Sheree Tams. Photo by Dahlia Katz.

Fried is luminous as the mercurial, fiercely independent, giddy in love Rosalynde; coupled with Nabea’s brave, bold and adorably bashful Orlando, we see two abused young people forced to flee their homes and take charge of their lives—and coming to see the world, themselves and love with new eyes. The wisdom of women figures prominently in this production, from Huizi’s sharply witty, sassy, ever loyal Celia to Gillis’s poignant, well-travelled, experienced aviatrix Jaques. Jaques comes by her melancholy honestly, having seen—and feeling too much—of the world’s unfairness and cruelty. Here, the women school each other and the men in their lives: Jaques shares her experience with observant Celia; and the practical Rosalynde teaches the idealistic Orlando about the everyday nature of romantic relationships. Armour gives a hilarious, high-energy performance—bringing laughs and social commentary—as the quixotic scamp Touchstone.

Rosalynde (or, As You Like It) has one more performance at Ontario Place Trillium Park tonight (Aug 2) at 7:30 p.m.; thanks to the generous support of Ontario Place, admission is free—and Driftwood is happily accepting donations. Bring a chair, a blanket and bug spray (chair rental is available for $5—get there early). There’s a concession stand with drinks (including alcohol) and snacks; you can also score some sweet Driftwood merch over by the chair rental tent.

The Bard’s Bus Tour continues on its way, wrapping up its run on August 12. Check the Driftwood website for performance dates and locations; admission is free or PWYC, as indicated in the venue listing. Worried about weather? Check out the rain policy here.

For more on Rosalynde, check out director D. Jeremy Smith and actor Sochi Fried in an interview with Gill Deacon on CBC’s Here and Now.

 

 

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Lightning round social satire that burns so good in Second City Toronto’s hilariously insightful Come What Mayhem!

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Kyle Dooley, Ann Pornel, Lindsay Mullan, Becky Johnson, Brandon Hackett & Roger Bainbridge (top) – photo by Paul Aihoshi

This past year has been a tumultuous one, with some hysterically funny and horrible examples of human dumbassery. Taking on the trends and issues of 2016, Second City Toronto digs deep and burns hard in its sharply funny Come What Mayhem! Mainstage revue.

Written by the ensemble and directed by Carly Heffernan, assisted by Nigel Downer, with music direction by Lee Cohen, Come What Mayhem! features SC Toronto veterans and new faces: Roger Bainbridge, Kyle Dooley, Becky Johnson, Brandon Hackett, Lindsay Mullan and Ann Pornel. Tackling everything from relationships and dating, bullying and consent, Black Lives Matter and racism, politics, transit, health and gender, the cast holds no punches – and delivers each scene with mercurial timing and big laughs in this hilariously scathing look at ourselves and our world.

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Lindsay Mullan, Ann Pornel & Becky Johnson – photo by Racheal McCaig

Stand-outs include the wistful romantic musings of Mullan’s quiet Shoppers Drug Mart clerk, which included audience participation; Pornel and Dooley’s Tinder chat, with its pointed look at how we exoticize race; and Johnson’s hysterically awkward navigation of her date’s (Bainbridge) encounters with his exes. The show also features some thought-provoking moments. Hackett goes from poignant and introspective when date night meets Black Lives Matter (with Mullan) to outrageously funny as the guy who’s proud as heck about his restaurant order (where he also showcases his singing chops); the no-nonsense Pornel (who also brings awesome vocals to a song about her perfect guy) schools her girls’ night out bffs (Johnson and Mullan) on what “fat” is and isn’t; and Bainbridge is electric as the darkly funny game show host of You Oughta Know, which also featured audience participation and consequences as it slammed ignorance about world issues.

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Roger Bainbridge – photo by Racheal McCaig

Last night’s show ended with a third set, where the ensemble did some rounds of improv; riffing off audience suggestions with witty word play and a scene that took us from a barber shop to France in a wacky trip of hair styling and relationships.

With shouts to set designer Camillia Koo for the awesome Gardiner Expressway structure and graffiti art; and to SM/lighting designer Meg Maguire for keeping things moving along smartly, and snapping us in and out.

Lightning round social satire that burns so good in Second City Toronto’s hilariously insightful Come What Mayhem!

Take a look in the Come What Mayhem! mirror and laugh – it sure as hell beats the alternative. For show times and tickets, check online.