IF YOU GO
What: “As You Like It”
Where: Mill Creek Park’s Morley Pavilion
When: 6 p.m. Friday and Saturday
McCollum Road, Youngstown
What better setting for “As You Like It,” one of Shakespeare’s most beloved “pastoral comedies,” than the sylvan setting of Mill Creek Park? The Mahoning Valley Players’ (MVP) production of “AYLI” will be staged in the park’s Morley Pavilion for two performances only, Friday and Saturday at 6 p.m. Admission is free, and the only caveat is that you’ll have to bring along your own seating (a blanket or lawn chair should suffice).
Liz Conrad, MVP co-founder and “AYLI” co-director, recently sat down for an interview to discuss the play and MVP’s plans for the future.
Q. Lots of cities have made a summer tradition out of “Shakespeare in the Park” (most famously in New York’s Central Park). Are you hoping that this al fresco experiment will become an annual event in the Mahoning Valley?
A. MVP and the Mill Creek board are hoping this will be a success so that we can continue staging Shakespeare in the park next summer and beyond. We’d love to stage two productions in 2012 — a comedy and drama — to cater to Shakespeare lovers of various stripes and persuasions. This all started back in January or February. I’d mentioned how much I missed doing Shakespeare, and a friend (Kim Aiken) suggested that we try a “Shakespeare in the Park”-type event this summer. A group of us, including Cleric Costes, who is my co-director, Kim (Akins), Pam Sacui, Jim Canacci and Cheryl Games all got together and started brainstorming some ideas. It’s been a whirlwind ever since.
Q. How did you pick which Shakespeare play to perform?
A. We all agreed that we wanted to do a comedy: something with a funny, but relevant story that people could relate to. “AYLI” really fit the bill nicely. It’s a he said/she said romantic comedy that even guys can get into. Plus, Cleric and I have worked really hard cutting the show to fit into a less-than-two-hour time slot, editing some of the language while keeping the funniest bits for a completely new look at Shakespeare. We wanted to keep the story intact, but eliminate all of the “unnecessary” parts. So we’re telling the story in its most basic form. And we’ve set it in the Summer of Love (1967) and added some modern flair with original music by Simon Kenneally. This is not your grandmother’s Shakespeare (laughs).
Q. How do you divide directing duties with a partner?
A. Cleric and I work really well together. He has a keen eye for the ‘”funny,” and I’m a lover of the (Shakespearean) language, so together we make the perfect directing duo. If we have two different ideas for a certain part, we’ll run it both ways and see what works best. It’s the perfect system.
Q. Who’s appearing in the show?
A. We have Youngstown staples like the beautiful Denise Bayer (Rosalind/Ganymede), Chuck Kettering (Orlando) who can do no wrong in my book, the irreverent and hilarious Tom O’Donnell (Touchstone) and so many others, including Jim and Miranda Canacci, Eric and Jeremiah Kibler, Dave and Donny Wolford, Sam Horne, Camille Smith and, making their Youngstown stage debuts, Emma Wason and Tricia Terlesky. And we even have professional wrestler PJ Smerechansky, who will bring along a professional ring and some special friends for added amusement.
Q. Pam Sacui’s costumes are not traditional Shakespearean garb. Could you tell us a little about her design choices?
A. Because we’ve set “AYLI” in the Summer of Love, Cleric and I have given her full liberty to “hippy-dippy” the cast up. We’ll have tie-dye and fringe and a lot of “Lennon glasses” onstage as opposed to the traditional tights-and- tunic look. The pieces she’s chosen have a classic ’60s/’70s, New-Age feel and will show you a new side of “Billy Shakes” (laughs).
Q. Why a 6 p.m. curtain?
A. We wanted families to be able to come and enjoy the show without having to be out too late. It also provides us with natural lighting to go along with the organic feel of the show itself. With the play ending at 8 p.m., that will leave plenty of time for families to hang out with the cast or enjoy other summer activities in the park.