Cherry Arts Mounts Shakespeare in a Tent

One walks from the gravel of the parking lot beside the Arthaus into a spacious tent, like those for grand wedding celebrations. It’s a glorious July Sunday on the inlet. The actors are just arriving back from lunch, food containers in hand. 

Director Sam Buggeln motions them to work on costumes newly delivered and hung offstage, asking them to figure out their changes (most of the cast doubles or triples.) Tree branches hang over the tiny square of stage, mulch-strewn, with a few sawhorses also sprouting branches. On the side an actor strums his guitar. 

Several actors take the time to ‘con their parts’ (run lines) with one another. On the stage, fight get rehearsed.

All the easy chaos of pulling a show together, in this case the Cherry Arts Collective’s first Shakespearean foray, the comedy As You Like It, opening Thursday, August 3 and running two weekends (

In part, the play’s a fairy tale: A nasty duke has usurped the old duke, who lives in exile in Arden forest. The old duke’s daughter, Rosalind, is fostered in the court in sisterly affection with the princess, Celia. Orlando, younger son of a banished lord, festers under the rule of his elder brother. Paranoia and danger at court causes those three to flee Arden’s woods. 

It’s city ways versus country ways, as well as one of Shakespeare’s great cross-dressing comedies featuring a lively woman in the lead. It’s also a complex dive into gender and sexuality, which are key to Buggeln’s vision.

I chat with Sylvie Yntema (Rosalind) and R.J. Lavine (Celia). 

R.J. speaks of “leaping into the character” as part of her process: working to find the spine in Celia who she says is too often played as “naïve, simple, and childish.” Her Celia instead is a socialite who must often hides her actual intelligence.

She’s also still working lines. (She and Sylvie share a loud laugh.) They’ve been in rehearsal just 2 ½ weeks: “intense” but also “quite fun.”

“In the beginning of the play. Rosalind doesn’t say much,” explains Sylvie. “She’s down in the dumps from the situation she’s been forced into. What changes things is that in the necessity of survival she dons men’s apparel and goes into the woods. There she really opens up and blossoms. She relishes … her power in being seen as a man. She can move about the world in a very different way than she did as a woman: telling people her opinions and what to do, orchestrating things.” 

Yet there’s a balance to figure out. “When she finds Orlando there, she’s really there also to pursue him and to find out if his love is true; so I’m trying to find also these vulnerable moments.”

Wit abounds in the play, most especially in the duo of the melancholy Jacques (“all the world’s a stage) and the antic fool Touchstone. 

Carolyn Goelzer plays Jacques (and doubles as the ancient Adam, traditionally seen as a role Shakespeare himself played.)

“I’ve never played Jacques before and it’s my dream role.… He’s so mysterious to me. Actually we’re approaching Jacques as a ‘they’.” 

She’s worked out her own backstory for Jacques: “What went down… that made them a pariah, a traveler?” 

“I think Jacques the counterpoint to Touchstone, [who is] sunny, upbeat, witty and Jacques is more interior, distressed.” Much of the melancholy she believes is because Jacques is facing his imminent dying.

Eric Brooks plays Touchstone. “He’s fascinating. I’ve played Shakespeare clowns twice before professionally. He’s definitely the most complicated.” One of two key lines about Touchstone he is working from: “In his brain… he has strange places crammed with observations the which he vents in mangled form.” So on the one hand, he observes the others and comments on them. On the other, “he’s constantly assessing and evaluating and speaking in a stream of consciousness…”

As the day’s ‘stumble through’ commences. a silky red curtain has been drawn across the back of the tent (later to open to actual nature) and a patterned rug covers the stage. We are in the court. A singer walks up to a microphone and commences “Give Beauty All Her Right.”

The Cherry reached out a few local musicians to create new settings of Shakespeare’s lyrics in this song-filled comedy: Evan Friedell (Jimkata), Nate Silas Richardsoon (Sim Redmond Band), Jennie Lowe Stearns, Maddy Walsh and Mike Suave (The Blind Spots), and Mandy Goldman and Samuel B. Lupowitz (Noon Fifteen). Carolyn mentions how much “texture and flavor” the music lends.

John Drinkwater is the singer. One of two NYC-based actors, the combo of guitar, singing and acting (he’s Amiens (the singer) and the love-smitten shepherd Silvius) drew him to audition. He is getting a kick out of being “really upstate,” bringing along his kayak and fishing gear. 

“Everybody in this group is so pro… right away we clicked… and I think that comes across in the show which is how all these people get along.” As to the six different songs: “Are these all going to fit? …[but] it was almost magic, how they all kind of fit this perfect arc…I can’t wait to do them.”

Song, romance, gender role play, wit, transformations, language, the outdoors: come see it all with the Cherry’s As You Like It.

Ross Haarstad Written by:

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