Bard on the Beach, the Vancouver, B.C., classical drama outfit, continues its 22nd season of Shakespeare productions through Sept. 24, 2011. Four shows are being offered, including "As You Like It" and "The Merchant of Venice" in the company's new mainstage circus-style tent.
If you haven’t had your fill of summer Shakespeare, a drive north could cure that.
Bard on the Beach, the Vancouver, B.C., classical drama outfit, continues its 22nd season of Shakespeare productions through Sept. 24. And if the four shows are not precisely outdoor affairs, they are the next best thing — quartered in puffy-white, open-backed, circus-style tents, poised high on a Vanier Park bluff against a vista of English Bay and Coast Mountains, and moments from downtown Vancouver.
Founded by artistic director Christopher Gaze, BOB does not have the extensive resources and reputation of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, or Ontario’s Stratford Shakespeare Festival.
But it is an urban classics oasis — plucky, spirited, focused on actors and texts, not deluxe scenic values. And in its own pleasingly unslick way, BOB is growing.
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This year’s two mainstage outings, “As You Like It” and “The Merchant of Venice,” unfurl in BOB’s new show tent with improved acoustics and technical capabilities.
The 740 seats are cushier and more plentiful than in the previous tent. But some essentials are unchanged.
Watching BOB’s current “As You Like It,” one of Shakespeare’s most captivating and oft-produced comedies, you still get a majestic glimpse of sky and sea at dusk, through that open flap.
And the added seating does not alter the sense of audience-actor intimacy that’s a company trademark.
Directed by David Mackay, the show exhibits the troupe’s strengths and occasional thespic weaknesses. The Shakespearean text is spoken with ringing cogency. The concept staging makes good sense and is carried through: it fashions the court from which the principle characters are banished as a repressively Puritan society.
The acting is the uneven element. When it’s good, it’s blazing — as in Lois Anderson’s dashing turn as a cross-dressing Rosalind reveling in her new independence and giddy with infatuation.
Also of note: the self-dramatizing, gloom-doom Jaques of John Murphy, and the nimble, naughty clowning of Ryan Beil as a deliciously deadpan Touchstone.
When the acting here is not so good (as per Todd Thomson’s loudly cloddish swain Orlando), it’s unfortunate — but not fatal.
Bard on the Beach is also outgrowing its 240-seat smaller tent, the Douglas Campbell Studio. In 2012 it too will be replaced by a more spacious venue.
The “Richard III” on view now (in rep with “King Henry VI,” as part of the company’s “War of the Roses” cycle of history dramas) utilizes the smaller tent and ramp-like stage strikingly in Kathryn Shaw’s tense, foreboding production.
The star here, as the contemptible titular monarch, is a very impressive Bob Frazer — whose Richard literally is the “bottled spider” his detractors decry.
Using crutches as arachnid-like limbs, Frazer’s performance is an athletic feat rife with the brutality, sleek villainy and Olympic-grade determination of a monarch who delights in the utter disgust of the rest of a well-cast kingdom. It’s a satisfying flash of evil, in a tented encounter with the Bard.
Misha Berson: email@example.com