On a clear and pleasant July evening, with just enough breeze to keep the mosquitoes at bay, First Folio Theatre’s pastoral setting gives the forest of Arden a run for its money. But that can only take you so far without a smart and heartfelt take on “As You Like It.” Fortunately, that’s precisely what one finds under the stars in Oak Brook in director Skyler Schrempp’s astute staging.Throughout, we receive deft reminders of the delicate dance between romance and regret, youth and age, innocence and intrigue threaded throughout the play. As one of the banished Duke’s courtiers observes, “Happy is your grace that can translate the stubbornness of fortune into so quiet and so sweet a style.” Perhaps dispossession and wandering in the wilderness, away from the “painted pomp” of the “envious court” yields its own quiet brand of resistance and rebirth.
What I expect would have delighted Vesely most is the unabashed sense of female empowerment reflected in Schrempp’s gender-conscious casting...in this celebration of love in all its incarnations, Schrempp goes the Bard one better, casting women in roles long played by men....Ultimately, “As You Like It” is a testament to love — passionate, affectionate, dutiful and indulgent. Love endures in spite of loss. And that is perhaps the most profound lesson in this empowering “As You Like It,” and one the First Folio family knows well.
Skyler Schrempp is the artistic director at the Viola Project, a nonprofit that brings together girls ages 10-16 and immerses them in Shakespeare as a way of teaching them to find and use their own voices. “We work with girls at a time of their lives when they stop advocating for themselves,” Schrempp said. As 13-year-old Sophie Harris told me the day I observed a class, “It’s kind of saying, ‘In your face, Shakespeare’ because his plays were originally for all boys.”
If not an imposter (played enigmatically and charmingly by Skyler Schrempp), what is she?
Skyler Schrempp is properly composed and justly enigmatical as The Woman. Conveying so much without words, using mere looks and gestures, the lovely Ms. Schrempp is simply captivating in this challenging role.
...we remain fixated on the enigmatic woman from the iceberg for the entire production...Skyler Schrempp is a riveting actress who is downright mystifying to watch on stage (and not to mention the actress absolutely nailed the Welsh dialect).
There is a touch of the film ‘Cold Mountain’ in the relationship between the pure hearted Imogen (Kate McDermott) and Posthumous’s servant Pisanio, but who, in Skyler Schrempp’s fiery tomboy performance, is transformed into something akin to Renee Zellweger’s Ruby.
It’s appropriate that the most memorable performance in this meditation on the search for identity comes from a character who doesn’t have her own name. Curley’s Wife, the ‘tart’ who allegedly causes all the trouble on the ranch where George and his slow witted pal Lennie end up, is far from a painted up, panting hussy in Bremner’s staging. Instead, Skyler Schrempp is a rather plain girl-next-door type, with bruises on her arm and a palpable aura of loneliness. She’s not looking for trouble any more than Lennie is; like him, she just wants something soft and understanding to ease the pain of her hardscrabble life and her battered body and self esteem. ‘The whole country’s full of mutts,’ she says, and it’s clear she’s not talking about Lennie’s puppy. The parallels between Schrempp’s heartsick newlywed and Dave Skvarla’s bearish and carelessly brutish Lennie make their final scene together magnetic and heartbreaking.
Hickey does use some cross-dressing sleight of hand to clever ends, particularly in the character of the page boy, Moth, who is played here by a woman (a sly Skyler Schrempp), bringing echoes of Rosalind and Viola to mind.
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