Even in the gloaming of a mild winter, we can still impatiently beckon spring, that season of love and lightness, when nature again fills our senses with fragrant revival. Ten Thousand Things draws out the pastoral yearning in Shakespeare's "As You Like It," one of his earliest and sunniest comedies.
In the forest of Arden, it seems, the bromide holds: "All you need is love." Shakespeare revels in the fresh innocence of rustic life, where simple farmers mix with wandering exiles. This is a place of honesty, decency and transformation -- contrasting the royal court's acrid aura of cruel deceit. It is also a place of love -- that emotional fog made of fantasy, passion, wishes, adoration, duty, patience, impatience, trial and observance, as the shepherd Silvius eloquently declaims.
Lear de Bessonet's staging emphasizes the texture and malleability of "As You Like It." Traditionally centered on Rosalind's flight from her uncle's court and subsequent pursuit of romance, here the themes play out more broadly: from the nomadic Jacques' singular melancholy to the fever of passion breaking out among quirky country folk and changed courtiers.
The whole thing is braced up with comic energy and theatrical playfulness. Except for a few seminal moments, "As You Like It" never has seemed Shakespeare's sharpest thrust into the human psyche, and Ten Thousand Things' breezy treatment feels right.
De Bessonet's cast has familiar, solid names. Bradley Greenwald and Randy Reyes sand off any polish of sophistication in their portrayal of farmers (Greenwald is particularly fun as Silvius and Audrey), but also cloak themselves with dignity. Kimberly Richardson is reliably slapstick in several roles; Maggie Chestovich's Rosalind bridles with youthful impatience and energy; Aimee K. Bryant gives lovely voice to the songs of the forest.
The soul of this piece, however, reveals itself in actor Pearce Bunting, a relative newcomer to the Twin Cities stage. Bunting nimbly flexes between Touchstone -- played as a Brooklynese sharpie -- and Jacques, the dispirited traveler. His visage and manner bear the full weight of experience as he tells us that "All the world's a stage." That famous speech of humanity's circular and hollow drama lands fully in our hearts. Bunting is an actor of authentic and sympathetic depth.
No review of a Ten Thousand Things production would be complete without a nod to the indispensable Peter Vitale, who again creates the sound of a one-man band from his perch at the keyboard, drums and chimes. Vitale's work is the scenery, sound and mood of De Bessonet's production.
Graydon Royce • 612-673-7299