Shakespeare’s Rustic Revelry: Classic Theatre of Maryland Presents As You Like It

By Jim Reiter

One of the more famous lines in Shakespeare’s As You Like It is “All the world’s a stage.” Classic Theatre of Maryland takes the phrase literally by setting the pastoral comedy outside, turning the lovely grounds of the historic Gresham Estate in Edgewater into The Bard’s Forest of Arden.

The setting is especially apt because the forest is not just background but another character in this story of exile, mistaken identity, love and freedom. This Arden is alive with the sounds of nature, which accompany the 1930s bluegrass music adapted for the production and sung beautifully by CTM’s dozen cast members, accompanied by multi-instrumentalist and music director Nancy Krebs. A tall, rustic windmill looms over the proceedings, helping to place us in Depression-era Appalachia, along with the perfectly realized costumes.

The setting works because Shakespeare is timeless, and because we’re outdoors where so much of the story takes place. And it works because the cast seems to revel in the location, freed from the confines of the usual brick and mortar theater building, and director Sally Boyett and her technical team have used lighting and sound to highlight rather than to temper the natural setting.

It’s a comedy, yes, but it’s Shakespeare, so sit up in the lawn chair you brought and pay attention. Because while it is funny, and the players wear microphones, several in the cast play more than one role, which is easily followed but you must pay heed.

The talented cast features Josh Lee as Orlando, who flees to the forest after learning of his brother’s plot to kill him, and Shayna Freedman as Rosalind, the banished duke’s daughter who falls in love with Orlando but also flees to the forest after being exiled from the royal court. For protection she takes on the guise of a man, while her cousin Celia (Maggie Paul) pretends to be an old poor woman. Jeffrey Allen Sneed portrays their companion Touchstone as a ventriloquist, complete with a Charlie McCarthy dummy.

Touchstone (and the dummy) offer a running commentary on the goings-on around him, as does Jaques, Justino Brokaw’s melancholy nobleman living in the forest with his banished duke. Brokaw makes the famous “all the world’s a stage” speech sound like you’re hearing it for the first time.

Dexter Hamlett, Austin Rubinoski, Allison Meyer, Ryan Kirby, Kaitlin Harbin, and John Pruessner all play several roles effectively. As the exiled duke, Pruessner invites everyone to partake in a “rustic revelry” as the story wraps up with good news.

Rustic revelry. Shakespeare’s alliteration perfectly describes what you’ll experience if you drop a folding chair in the trunk, head out to Edgewater, and revel in this lovingly crafted outdoor production.

Lighting design by Hailey LaRoe; audio engineer is Folger Rideout; costumes by Sally Boyett.

As You Like It runs about two hours and 15 minutes with one intermission.

Thru July 24, ThFSaSu 7:30pm, Gresham Estate, Edgewater, $55 w/discounts lawn seating, $68 VIP seating, RSVP: