The bucolic setting of Shakespeares As You Like It seems a natural for outdoor production. Bare Theatre obliges in Raleigh Little Theatres Stephenson Amphitheatre, adding a twist by placing the action in the Appalachian woods, complemented by live old-timey music. The energetic cast offers assorted pleasures, despite having to fight major technical problems.
The venues landscaping provides appropriate backdrop for this comedy of love-struck men and the independent-minded women they woo. Director Heather J. Strickland makes full use of the large stage as well as much of the audience area, her well-rehearsed cast projecting the joy of performing while depicting townsfolk and hillbillies. Greensboro band The Zinc Kings supports the proceedings with catchy original dance music and songs.
Some Shakespeare plays fit better outdoors than others. As You Like It has some situations that suggest broad comedy and low slapstick, but its mostly a mature work of sophisticated wordplay and subtle relationship insights. Having the actors here physicalize so much of their dialogue and keep up such intense delivery may have seemed necessary to fill the large space; but it quashes any depths, and in some cases, such as an actor in a bear suit, relies on easy laughs to get through dense passages of dialogue.
The actors use face mics, helping project dialogue out over the 2,000-seat amphitheater; but, oddly, the actors mostly shout and overemphasize their lines as if they had no mics. Those who know about vocal range and enunciation, including Jeff Buckner as Orlando, Rebecca Blum as Touchstone and Fred Corlett as Duke Frederick, show that characterization can be had without yelling.
Thursday nights opening was nearly derailed by random but constant sound system outages, robbing actors of some great lines and repeatedly subjecting the audience to high-pitched interference. Some microphone troubles are inevitable in such circumstances, but this amount was unacceptable.
What could be discerned of the rest of the casts performances allowed appreciation for Whitney Griffins spunky Rosalind (and faux-macho Ganymede) and Mary Foresters sassy gal-pal Celia, along with Laura Bess Jernigans hilariously lusty Phebe and Chuck Keiths moony Silvius. Stephen Wall, as Jaques, gave a fine reading of the All the Worlds a Stage speech.
With on-site food trucks and preshow performances, the evening is best looked on as a night out under the stars, with comic and musical entertainment.