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SHAKESPEARE & CO.’s “AS YOU LIKE IT” WAS AS PLANET LIKES IT … plus … BOTCHED FIREWORKS? GET OVER IT! COLONIALS OFFER A GREAT PRODUCT AT A GREATER PRICE … and … LEARN ABOUT AMERICA’S BIGGEST TEACHING SCANDAL (NO, IT ISN’T IN PITTSFIELD, AT LEAST THAT WE KNOW OF)

By DAN VALENTI

PLANET VALENTI Arts

ADD #1

(FORTRESS OF SOLITUDE, WED., July 6, 2011, 1st ADD) — Shakespeare & Company’s current production of the Bard’s farce comedy, “As You Like It,” drives home a point about Will that, while once startlingly original, has, through repetition stemming from its truth, become a cliché. The point? Shakespeare “is our contemporary.”

Years ago, Polish critic Jan Kott wrote a book that argued as much, and the high brows accepted the eccentric observation of the disproportionately influential book. Most didn’t get the satiric nature of Kott’s work. The Polish author was actually writing a withering political critique of Soviet totalitarianism.

Nonetheless, Kott’s “license” gave directors and production designers ever since the freedom to mess with Shakespeare as they like it, including the old stand-by of setting his plays in modern times. Not only does this device save on costumes and sets, it eliminates “the Elizabethan barrier” that many of today’s audiences trip over. In he hands of anything less than an able director, it’s the formula for disaster. Fortunately, Shakespeare and Company’s artistic director is a more than able director.

Into the ‘Way Ahead Machine’

“As You Like It” director Simotes puts “As You Like It” in Mr. Peabody’s “Way Ahead Machine.” He brings Rosalind, Orlando, and all the others from the early 17th century into the Paris, ca. 1920. Simotes says he chose Paris of the Roaring Twenties “to recreate the whirlwind, dizzying feeling of falling in love.” Fair enough, but the setting and time seem arbitrary considering that in this production, nothing changes but the costumes, a few novelty songs, and the Monopoly-like “house and hotel” of the sparse set. In others words, played just as expertly, the farcical nature of “As You Like It” would have done well in most any other place and time.

What sets this production apart isn’t Simotes’ choice of 1920 Paris but — you might want to sit down for this — letting the language of Shakespeare be the Star of First Magnitude. The remainder, which includes all of the ensemble cast, are but mere players, with their entrances and exits … except for the redoubtable Jonathan Epstein, of course.

Less is More, i.e., Set, Lighting, and Sound Get Out of the Way

In a case where less is more, the set, light, and sound designers have little to do. Sets are bare, except for the small slate-gray tokens depicting the Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame Cathedral, the Arc de’ Triumph, and other Paris landmarks — that and a few stylistic branches supposed to represent the Forest of Arden.

The “Monopoly” tokens serve as set pieces and provide function as dollies and seats for crew and cast. Lighting dims and brightens appropriately, and that’s about it. Sound goes for mood and cheap laughs. It would have been a perfect opportunity for apprentices to do sets, lights, and sound, for all that Simotes requires. This isn’t a knock. It’s great praise, since the decision not only saves on the budget but also lets Shakespeare’s language carry the play (good acting assumed).

The sparseness of production values forces the play to hang on every one of Shakespeare’s words, almost as a kind of life-support. Given the talent of this cast, this is not a hanging in effigy but more the hanging of a great work of art on a gallery wall.

Jonny Epstein Runs Away with It as Touchstone

Show stealer of “As You Like It” is the fabulous Jonathan Epstein as the fool Touchstone. Epstein’s voice makes each word sound with seasoning, inflections perfect, pauses in exactly the right places, and diction crisp so that understanding the ratt-ta-tatt Elizabethan words becomes a breeze. Epstein exudes ownership of the role in a way that rises to bravado worthy of “Bravo!”

Unfortunately, in the only false note of casting, the overmatched Jennie Jadow can’t keep up as Touchstone’s lover, Audrey. True, Audrey is a ditz, but lacking Epstein’s brilliant over- and under-play, Jadow tries to over-emote. She flops didismally, an adverb made necessary because some “flops” work to the point of intentionality; not this one, though. If this were a film, Jadow would mercifully end up on the cutting room floor. Ah, but it’s not a film, and the audience has to endure.

Fortunately, Epstein’s fellow veterans Josh Aaron McCabe (Oliver, Orlando’s murderous brother), Jonathan Kroy (Corin), Tod Randolph (Jaques) Johnny Lee Davenport (Duke Frederick), and Malcolm Ingram (Adam) rise to Epstein’s level. The bar is set high, and they clear it. Ingram may not have a lot to do, but he’s worth watching. Every moment he’s on stage, even peripherally without anything to say or do, he captures Adam’s creaky, kind-hearted benevolence. Ingram becomes ancient. It’s a lesson for anyone who appreciates acting and realizes the importance for bit players to stay in character.

Roach, Janson ‘Lead’ the Way: Doogie Howser Falls in Love with Rocket J. Squirrel

The two youthful leads — Tony Roach as Orlando and Merrit Janson as Rosalind/Ganymede — capture perfectly the innocence of the two star-struck lovers. Roach has a Doogie Howser kind of naïvete, Janson a Rocket J. Squirrel type of enthusiasm.

One can forgive the greatest structural flaw of Shakespeare’s plot, namely, that Rosalind can get away with posing as a man in the mysterious forest of Arden. It’s in the same category of the Superman/Clark Kent switch. No one would be fooled, but we accept it as a plot device, awkward as it may be. Roach and Janson emit the energy of youth and do a capital job with Shakespeare’s lines. Kelley Curran as Celia, Rosalind’s companion, doesn’t slip as second banana and foil. Equiano Mosieri brings command to his part of LeBeau.

In the end, of course, all the lovers live happily ever after and then some, as they have been since the first performance of the play on Dec. 2, 1603. Orlando-Rosalind, a repentant and reconciled Oliver-Celia, Touchstone-Audrey, and Silvius (Ryan Winkles)-Phoebe (Dana Harrison): each ties the knot without it becoming Gordian.

Shakespeare derived “As You Like It” from Thomas Lodge’s “Rosalynde” (pub. 1590), which Lodge cobbled from the pseudo-Chaucerian “Tale of Gamelyn.” Shakespeare apparently loved the theme of contrast: the chicanery and intrigue of the court with the innocence and goodness of the country. Connivery and treachery vs. purity and rectitude provide a great framework for a morality tale. The farce-like fun prevents it from getting syrupy, which is why this play has never primarily been about the foibles and pitfalls of love. Simotes seems to “get” this distinction.

The production was, in the end, As We Like It.

“AS YOU LIKE IT” CONTINUES AT SHAKESPEARE AND COMPANY’S FOUNDERS’ MAINSTAGE THROUGH SEPT. 4. FOR TICKETS AND MORE INFORMATION, GO TO www.shakespeare.org.

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(FORTRESS OF SOLITUDE, WEDNESDAY, JULY 6, 2011) — Never have so many been so riled by so little.

THE PLANET refers to the botched fireworks at Beloved Wahconah Park following the conclusion of the best game of the year (1-0, Colonials, on a Johnny Welch home run) in front of the year’s biggest crowd (4,0009). The pyrotechnics started as usual, but after less than 10 minutes, it ended — just like that. Nothing.

No Announcement was the Big Mistake

The crowd knew something went wrong, but it didn’t know what. That’s when the team made its one and only mistake in the fiacso: It did not make an announcement informing the thousands of people that the show had to stop because of an electrical malfunction that wasn’t the team’s fault. Instead, the PA announcer came on, thanked the crowd for coming, and bid them all good night, pretending everything was OK and that the show had been executed in its fullness. HUGE mistake, because it then led to rumors.

Rumor Mill Grinds Exceedingly Well

The exiting crowd noticed the flashing blue lights from Pittsfield police. The cops were there for traffic control, but some fans assumed there had been an accident. Then, coincidentally, a Medi-Vac life rescue helicopter was spotted at the same time. People assumed one of the fireworks’ crew had been injured or killed. It took off from there.

So here we are, two days after, and it’s time to put the matter to rest. As many have wisely said (and some have posted at this website), they’re just fireworks. They’re not a meal for a starving man or the stay of execution for a man on death row. People missed a lot of color and noise, signifying nothing.

What’s more important to the larger scheme of things, and to the quality of life in the city of Pittsfield, is how much of a crowd attends tomorrow night’s game as BWP. THE PLANET has the feeling that tomorrow night’s game will be THE barometer game of the year. A crow of 1,000 or more will bode well for the future of professional baseball in Pittsfield. If it’s 800 or less, Katie, bar the door.

Colonials Offer Best Bargain in Berkshire County in the High Months of Cultural July and Entertainment August

Buddy Lewis, the hard-working Colonials staff, and the city of Pittsfield (including the fabulous work of Greg Yon and the Parks Maintenance staff, including Vinny Barbarrotta and Tony Stracuzzi) have pulled out all stops. Mistakes have been made, but the product is first rate: Double A quality baseball, the Can-Am League, what has to be the best food in all of minor league baseball, a stadium that most any other city would love to have for its history and its genuine “throw-back character, the fact that BWP has NEVER looked or played better, the cost-vs-value ratio, the family-friendly nature of the outing, the best manager of the league in Jaime Keefe, the league’s top home run hitter in Johnny Welch, great starting pitching, and much more. [FULL DISCLOSURE: YES, THE PLANET ACTS IN A CONSULTING AND ADVISORY CAPACITY TO THE TEAM].

THE PLANET urges all to attend Thursday night and judge the product for yourselves.

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Objective Testing gone Amok … Is It Happening in Pittsfield??

Briefly, standardized testing has gone to seed.

In Massachusetts, the legislature passed the Ed Reform Act in 1993 because both colleges and the private sector were alarmed at how stunningly ill-prepared high school students were after completing 12 years of education. They came out with their sheepskins as dumb as dirt.

Reform including objective testing as a rational, non-emotional evaluation tool. THE PLANET heartily supported the concept, because it works.

Then the teachers unions got involved, and disaster ensued. Administrators panicked. In essence, local school districts, including Pittsfield, did not institute the required curriculum reform. When MCAS arrived in its watered down version, it was doomed to fail. Today, MCAS is a waste and actually deters quality in performance, which the unions knew would happen. They were opposed to the measure of intelligent reform and thus created the monster that they falsely claimed was there from the start.

This news item from the Christian Science Monitor shows what happens when professional educators pervert a good idea:

America’s biggest teacher and principal cheating scandal unfolds in Atlanta

At least 178 teachers and principals in Atlanta Public Schools cheated to raise student scores on high-stakes standardized tests, according to a report from the Georgia Bureau of Investigation.

Award-winning gains by Atlanta students were based on widespread cheating by 178 named teachers and principals, said Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal on Tuesday. His office released a report from the Georgia Bureau of Investigation that names 178 teachers and principals – 82 of whom confessed – in what’s likely the biggest cheating scandal in US history.

This appears to be the largest of dozens of major cheating scandals, unearthed across the country. The allegations point an ongoing problem for US education, which has developed an ever-increasing dependence on standardized tests.

The report on the Atlanta Public Schools, released Tuesday, indicates a “widespread” conspiracy by teachers, principals and administrators to fix answers on the Criterion-Referenced Competency Test (CRCT), punish whistle-blowers, and hide improprieties.

It “confirms our worst fears,” says Mayor Kasim Reed. “There is no doubt that systemic cheating occurred on a widespread basis in the school system.” The news is “absolutely devastating,” said Brenda Muhammad, chairwoman of the Atlanta school board. “It’s our children. You just don’t cheat children.”

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LATER TODAY: THE PLANET REVIEWS “AS YOU LIKE IT” FROM SHAKESPEARE & COMPANY.

“OPEN THE WINDOW, AUNT MILLIE”

LOVE TO ALL

18 Responses to “SHAKESPEARE & CO.’s “AS YOU LIKE IT” WAS AS PLANET LIKES IT … plus … BOTCHED FIREWORKS? GET OVER IT! COLONIALS OFFER A GREAT PRODUCT AT A GREATER PRICE … and … LEARN ABOUT AMERICA’S BIGGEST TEACHING SCANDAL (NO, IT ISN’T IN PITTSFIELD, AT LEAST THAT WE KNOW OF)”

  1. olga1975
    July 6, 2011 at 8:50 am #

    Dan
    If the City had been responsible for the fireworks, I can just imagine what you would have said about the incompatance of those terrible public servants who had the audacity to disappoint the public on the 4th of July. Then again it all about whether you’re buying or selling. I think its time for you to “get over it” i.e. yourself

    • danvalenti
      July 6, 2011 at 9:32 am #

      Ah, Olga, but the city WAS responsible, since the fireworks were being held at a city-owned facility. Obviously, you need to find another line of attack, since this feeble attempt failed! I appreciate the feedback, though. Thanks!

  2. edconnect
    July 6, 2011 at 9:42 am #

    Dan your awesome.you should be court magistrate for you ability to connect the dots.

    So Pittsfield should not have allowed the colonials to use their facility because they(the colonials) lack the ability to put on a decent firework show.

    • danvalenti
      July 6, 2011 at 10:28 am #

      ED
      Thanks, but my hands are full running THE PLANET. We’ll leave the clerk mag’s job for the amazingly unqualified No Show!

  3. Concern
    July 6, 2011 at 1:59 pm #

    Heard that this Friday they are going to try the fireworks display again, even bigger for the public Sure this one will work great for all to see. Wish them good luck so everyone can have a good time.

  4. just saying
    July 6, 2011 at 6:02 pm #

    I don’t give a shit about fireworks. Our nation is imploding. I don’t give a shit about C. Anthony or the Colonials baseball team. I only care about the fate of America….. DV shows the corruption @ the local level. This is where we start to rebuild this nation.
    @ olga,
    Dan has done more than anyone else in the local blogs to expose idiots and their agendas. You, ms. Olga, should thank this man for his work on disclosing vital info to the public.
    Disagree, cool, but don’t write crap that insinuates that DV is slamming anyone. DV is usually correct. Sometimes wrong. I’d have to say that his opinions mostly reflect the truth.

    • danvalenti
      July 6, 2011 at 6:36 pm #

      JS
      Appreciate the comments. Many thanks from THE PLANET.

  5. just saying
    July 6, 2011 at 6:07 pm #

    Not that I’ve seen any crap about C.A. On this site. Was making reference to the national ‘media’.

  6. edconnect
    July 6, 2011 at 8:56 pm #

    ya dan im with you too.
    I might bust your chops a little bit, but when it comes down to the nitty gritty I’ll ALWAYS give you your respects!

    Thanks for the Planet!! If it wasn’t for you we’d have nada.

    • danvalenti
      July 7, 2011 at 7:38 am #

      ED
      Appreciate this more than you know.
      I have enjoyed your “shots” because they are on topic and often on target.
      As long as two people have respect, there can be friendship.

  7. Joetaxpayer
    July 7, 2011 at 3:26 am #

    Not a big fan of fireworks.Try to avoid park on fireworks nite,overcrowed with unruley children and non baseball fans.Go Colonials!

    • danvalenti
      July 7, 2011 at 7:37 am #

      JOE
      I appreciate, and in fact share, you position.
      I love my baseball straight, without gimmicks. That leaves me stranded in the wrong era!

  8. rick
    July 7, 2011 at 4:34 am #

    all they had to say over the p.a. at the game was there was a glitch and the fireworks were over, and they will shoot off the rest next game, theres the over 1000 their looking for dan……..nothing in this town is done right!! and they wonder why rumors fly.

    • danvalenti
      July 7, 2011 at 7:36 am #

      RICK
      Yes. That was the biggest error of the night (in fact, the great 1-0 game had NO errors). Look, things can go wrong. The fireworks experienced an electrical short. Fine. An announcement would have provided an explanation, so that people could understand the situation. Most would have accepted. I have advised the team on every occasion that communication is crucial. Information must be shared. It must be accurate, and it must be transparent. They will learn from this.

      • Dusty
        July 7, 2011 at 9:23 am #

        They were probably unsure what to do and so called head man Ruberto. He probably gave his usual, “don’t say nuttin” answer so they took the low road.

  9. eric v
    July 7, 2011 at 8:09 am #

    My understanding based on conversations Ive had is that the firework folks never communicated to the Colonials until it was too late, the malfunctions, hence the lack of immediate announcment….minor glitch..get over it people…support the team…good baseball and great fan experience at BWP

  10. beezer
    July 7, 2011 at 10:51 am #

    @ right on! Stuff happens.

  11. Jeffrey Turner
    July 8, 2011 at 6:21 pm #

    Of course Dan isn’t going to blame his owner, Buddy Ryan, for the incompetence about the fireworks or anything else.

    As for the cheating scandal in Atlanta, cheating’s just another way to win in the high stakes world. If folks like Dan expect teachers and administrators to do more with less, they will take short cuts because they can’t control all the variables and they can’t afford the inputs needed to do a better job – especially as more and more low income people are stuck in low income ruts because of the winner-take-all nature of our economy.