‘Can one desire too much of a good thing?’

Legacy Stage presents another fun and full Shakespeare experience in Bidwell Park

Legacy Stage's production of As You Like It at Cedar Grove in Bidwell Park. (Photo by Meagan Heller)

William Shakespeare’s words are so deeply woven into modern culture that everyone, regardless of whether they’ve read his plays or seen them performed, is more familiar with The Bard than they may credit themselves. That was proven June 9 the moment a stream of well-known words sprang from the lips of actor David Lindstrom (playing Jacques) during Legacy Stage’s penultimate performance of As You Like It: “All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players …”

The audience let loose a collective “Ahhhh!” as heads nodded, smiles were exchanged and the sparse stage-lighting was (metaphorically) drowned by the flash of several dozen imaginary light bulbs of recognition igniting above the crowd. It was a thrilling theater-going moment, a palpable testament to Shakespeare’s legacy and the enduring power of words well-written and well-delivered.

Witnessing such Aha! moments is one of the unique joys of seeing Shakespeare performed live, an opportunity Legacy Stage has been granting the Chico community since it brought Shakespeare in the Park back to our beloved Bidwell Park in 2019. This is the company’s third production and second consecutive annual event, accounting for the COVID-19 crisis, and wound down its run on June 10.

Like Legacy’s first two productions, the latest proved exceptional. All of the actors performed wonderfully, and it was clear that this iteration of Shakespeare in the Park has achieved its potential as a one-of-a-kind community event. As You Like It—a story of exiles finding lives and lovers in a pastoral wonderland—was an excellent choice to let Bidwell Park shine in its starring role as the Arden Forest.

The tactile effect of using the abundant natural resources of the park’s Cedar Grove can’t be understated. In the short walk from the parking lot to the staging area, with the way lead by paper lanterns and written messages pinned to trees, audience members were transported to another place. The letters were a nice reference to the play, in which the love-struck Orlando (played here by Alex Tanner) pines for a woman named Rosalind (Susana Correa-Avila Robb), and runs around the woods pinning his bad poems to trees hoping to find her.

Orlando (Alex Tanner) and Rosalind (Susana Correa-Avila Robb). (Photo by Meagan Heller)

As my companion and I approached the meadow where audience members set up their own blankets and chairs, a section of the still-growing crowd sang the “Happy Birthday” song. They’d brought along a small table to hold a birthday cake for one of their party. Kudos to whoever planned that.

One of Legacy Stage’s hallmarks is the broad range of local talent it incorporates, from players just cutting their stage teeth to seasoned veterans. The blend of fiery, developing talent and steady-handed professionalism—injected with lot of heart, talent and solid direction—captures the essence of community theater in a way that’s pure and sweet to experience.

One of my favorite parts of last year’s production (A Midsummer Night’s Dream) was the inclusion of live music, and so it was this time around. A three-piece band featuring Alex Piasecki (violin), Ron Nawanage (guitar) and Skylar Wondrusch (ukulele) provided an energetic soundtrack and also showed off their acting chops during several scenes.

The play started before twilight and ended after dark, another great effect provided by the setting. The crew did a great job of emphasizing with sparse staging and lighting, the only illumination coming from the stage, a row of lights along the center aisle, and LED-lit floral crowns sold to audience members at the concessions booth. One moment that captured the unique immersiveness of the natural setting was when a character mentioned a nearby brook and pointed north, the audience knowing Big Chico Creek was bubbling by just a few hundred feet away.

The troubadours: (from left) Alex Piasecki, Skylar Wondrusch and Ronald Nawanage. (Photo by Ken Smith)

Talking about the show with my companion afterward, she brought up a term I was previously unfamiliar with—“fishka.” It’s Russian theater slang for the collective qualities that make an individual theater troupe unique, and it helped me pinpoint the qualities I appreciate and were more apparent to me this time around, in watching my second Legacy Stage production. It’s the live music; the gender neutral and wide-ranging casts; the atmosphere; the play selection; the lack of details that would put the play in any other particular timeline than one of fantasy and imagination; and the inclusive, lighthearted, non-stuffy approach to Shakespeare. All in one word: Fishka.

In addition to a planned return to the park next summer, Legacy Stage is also staging an October production of Lizzie: The Musical, a rock-‘n’-roll take on the blood-soaked legend of Lizzie Borden to be held at The Barn at Meriam Park. I’ll be there, and if you’re looking for a fun theater, inspiring and unique theater experience, so should you.

Legacy Stage

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