Summer’s here, and at Grass Valley’s own Synthetic Unlimited Theater Company, that means Shakespeare’s in the air. This year, director Jeffrey Mason has adapted the comedy “As You Like It,” staging it in modern times, and weaving in references to athletic sponsorships, cutthroat corporate culture, and, closer to home, to the laid-back woodsy feel right here in Nevada County’s own forests.
In brief, the play features a collection of city dwellers, escapees on the run from the scheming Duke Frederick’s Court Corporation, who unwittingly find themselves in the forest of Arden, home to bloodthirsty lions, wise shepherds and the banished Duke Senior, elder brother to Frederick. Led by Rosalind, one of Shakespeare’s wittiest and wiliest heroines (played by Grace Fae, a Synthetic principal), the confused band of misfits sees brothers fight and reconcile, lovers wound and swoon, true love manifesting in an instant, and one comic stumble after another.
Disguised as a young man, Rosalind tutors Orlando, her own suitor, in how best to love a woman, while the fool Touchstone (Micah Cone) woos a ditzy shepherdess (Angelina Young), and the melancholy Jacques (Susan Mason) delivers one of Shakespeare’s best-known monologues: “All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players.” As the urban refugees stumble up against the locals, finding love and fortune beneath the shady boughs, Rosalind winds her string, connecting all of the actions and all of the characters together in a grand finale.
“In this county, we’re used to seeing Shakespeare productions staged outdoors, or in one of our larger venues like the Nevada Theater,” said Jimmy McCammon, Synthetic’s co-founder and another principal with the company. “Though we’d love to present this play beneath the trees, we decided to work instead with a very small, very intimate space – our own 50 seat black box theater, located right on Joerschke in Brunswick. Audience members will be toe to toe with the actors, in some cases, resulting in a visceral connection to the production you simply can’t find anywhere else in town.”
Opened for productions just this year, Synthetic’s small theater, just across the street from Smiley Guy’s barbecue restaurant, has already seen productions of Sam Shepard’s “True West,” David Mamet’s “American Buffalo” and Bert Royal’s “Dog Sees God.” Future productions include the smash hit musical version of the cult classic movie series “Evil Dead: The Musical,” coming in October, a heart-warming old school holiday special in December and, in February, the global premier of World War Water, an original play written by Grass Valley’s own Ian Haines.
“We love putting on plays, especially challenging, complex works but I also want to point out that our company name contains the word Unlimited, and the slogan ‘Unlimited starts with you!” Indeed, the performance space is rarely empty, and has featured old-fashioned burlesque shows, stand-up comedy nights, student productions, punk rock, hip-hop concerts and much more. “Our mission is to inspire and support local artists in all ways,” Fae said. “We place tremendous value in education, as well, working with young people through our collaborations with Bitney College Prep High School and with Shawnna Frazer’s Little Players organization.”
No newcomer to Shakespeare’s challenging female roles, having played Cleopatra in Synthetic’s version of Antony and Cleopatra two years ago, Fae relishes the chance to showcase her more comic talents, especially under the direction of Jeffrey Mason, recently seen as Scrooge at the Nevada Theater.
“Jeff’s an extraordinarily professional director, and knows Shakespeare better than anyone I know. He’s brought out the best in my performance, both as a banished woman and as a scheming and manipulative young ‘man.’ We are blessed to have him associated with our company,” Fae said.
“As You Like It” opens Thursday and runs three weekends. It features a wide variety of local talent, including Synthetic regulars Casey Burke, Alexis Gross, Tom Wolfe, Tinley Ireland and Scott Young, as well as familiar local faces Victoria Sanders, Chase Coney, Sara Noah and Danny DeLuca. Located at 120 Joerschke Drive, the theater lounge will be open at 7 p.m. for drinks and desserts. Tickets are available at 1-888-95-SHOWS, the Briar Patch Co-op, and at www.syntheticunlimited.org.
All shows are at 8 p.m., with the exception of a 2 p.m. matinee Aug. 10.
For more , go to www.syntheticunlimited.org.