CORRECTION: The cast's the thing that makes 'As You Like It' sing under the stars

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Jul. 20—Hamlet, William Shakespeare's melancholy Dane, often has said: "The play is the thing, wherein I'll catch the conscience of the king."

Ten Bucks Theatre Company's production of the Bard's "As You Like It" proves that casting is the thing that makes this play sing. And sing it does, both literally and figuratively.

It is a frothy delight of lovers falling head over heels for each other at first sight, maidens disguised as men, maidens pretending to be other maidens, a banished duke and his friends wandering about a forest and a happy ending for nearly all. It moves at a frolicking pace that almost pulls the audience into the action but not out of its seats.

This show, which runs Thursday through Sunday at Indian Trail Park in Brewer before moving to Fort Knox, could have been a disaster because it had three different directors — Amy Roeder, Julie Arnold Lisnet and Aimee Gerow. Roeder, who deserves credit for her insightful casting, was unable to continue at the helm of the production because her role as a state legislator kept her in Augusta longer than expected. Arnold Lisnet took over but asked Gerow "to carry it across the finish line," according to the program notes.

The cast of "As You Like It," written in 1599, is perfect. It includes veteran Ten Bucks performers Ron Lisnet, Nathan Roach and Holly Schreiber and newcomers Nick Iammeteo and Blake Wright. Wright, a recent graduate of the University of Southern Maine, is an especially talented addition to the local acting pool, which has a wealth of character actors but is short on leading men.

Wright is a leading man and a half. His Orlando is witty, soulful and sexy but not quite clever enough to recognize his true love, Rosalind, in pants. Although Orlando is the youngest son of a nobleman, Wright imbues him with an earthy charisma that wins the heart of his lady and the audience.

Young actors with a flair for Shakespeare are rare in Maine. Seeing Wright's mastery of the language and the character in "As You Like It," led to imagining him in other roles — Henry V, Petruchio, Benedick, Hamlet and Macbeth.

Jenn Guare as Rosalind is Wright's equal. She gives the lovestruck maiden a serene intelligence that matches Orlando's wits well. Guare, an English teacher and adviser to the Drama Club at Hampden Academy, slowly reveals to the audience how Rosalind's self confidence and daring grows when she throws off a woman's garments and societal expectations.

Iammeteo gives the fool Touchstone a delightfully dry wit that perfectly balances out the melancholia suffered by Roach's Jacques, the play's only cynic. As Celia, Schreiber's devotion to her friend Rosalind over her father is touchingly sweet and she and Guare often relate to one another as sisters.

"As You Like It" is one of the best Shakespeare productions the company has launched since 2004, when Ten Bucks created Shakespeare Under the Stars in Indian River Park, due to its immensely talented and versatile cast. It is as equally fine as "The Merry Wives of Windsor," performed in 2017 and a bit better than last summer's socially distanced "The Taming of the Shrew."

Theater lovers should flock to this show and support this talented cast and crew that persevered to bring live theater, without masks or social distancing, to life again. "As You Like It" is an example of how deep the pool of talent here is and how it can make Shakespeare sparkle when given the chance.

Ten Bucks Theatre Company's production of "As You Like It" will be presented at 6 p.m. Thursday through Sunday at Indian Trail Park in Brewer. The show will be presented at 6 p.m. July 29 through Aug. 1 at Fort Knox State Park in Prospect. Tickets are $15 each. Attendees should bring folding chairs or blankets to sit on. For tickets, call 884-1030 or visit tenbuckstheatre.org.

Correction: An earlier version of this story misspelled Aimee Gerow's and Nick Iammeteo's last names.