It is a few minutes before showtime, and the actors are getting ready. They wander the spaces around the stage, quietly -- or not so quietly -- running lines, warming up their voices, and preparing for the afternoon's show.
Usually, this would be taken care of backstage, but on this afternoon, all they have is the performing area, as the rest of the Hennepin County Women's Corrections in Plymouth is decidedly off limits. Ten Thousand Things Theater is here to present William Shakespeare's As You Like it. As always, the company is bringing the production on the road to prisons, homeless shelters, and community centers before opening to the public at Open Book this weekend.
That means the production has to be easy to move and that some of the regular tools of the trade -- like stage lights -- aren't available. The company is also quite small, so six actors have to take on nearly two-dozen characters for Shakespeare's comedy about mistaken identity and love amid the rustic charms of the Forest of Arden.
Veteran actor Randy Reyes is performing in his second Ten Thousand Things show, as main squeeze Orlando. He's found these performances for non-traditional audiences to be intoxicating. "They're so unique," Reyes says. "There's a real intense relationship with them."
Folks tend to be far more engaged in the production than traditional theater audiences. This came out in the first performance of the show, when the audience -- rather vocally, Reyes says -- wanted Rosalind to come clean much earlier about her disguise and her love of Orlando.
They certainly were engaged last Friday afternoon, even if it took a bit for everyone to adjust to the Shakespearean syntax. Lear de Bessonet's quick-paced creation not only wrestles plenty of laughs, but also gets to the deep heart of the play.
They were with Rosalind and Celia (Maggie Chestoivch and Aimee Bryant) from the very beginning, as they fled the comforts of the court for the unknown of the forest. Once there, they were able to quickly slip into the rhythms of country life, brought to life by Bradley Greenwald, who plays both a male and female denizen of the forest (along with both dukes and the wrestler; he was busy).
Reyes brings intense passion to Orlando, whose decision to decorate the trees of the forest with missives to his love Rosalind comes as much from his anger at losing his longtime servant as boyhood passion. All of this gives the courting between Reyes and Chestovich a tremendous edge, as both are really hunting -- and finding -- something deeper than puppy love.
The whole forest of Arden comes to life with just a few steel, skeletal objects that represent trees or a pregnant cow. All of this calls for some quick changes, with Greenwald and Kimberly Richardson making deft switches onstage in a neat piece of low-tech theater magic.
IF YOU GO:
As You Like
Friday through March 11
Open Book 1011 Washington Ave. S., Minneapolis
For tickets and information, call 800.838.3006 or visit online