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As You Like It

Presented by: Taproot Theatre

The concept of setting Shakespeare in a different time or society is, too often, just a futile attempt to tart it up in a way that makes the play something other than what it is. Happily, director Karen Lund’s decision to place the romantic comedy of “As You Like It” in the late 1960’s, exchanging the intrigues of the Court for the politics of the White House and the primitive innocence of the Forest of Arden for the hippy Summer of Love was no stunt. Instead, it naturally amplifies and clarifies the characters and relationships and allows for a social milieu that feels close and accessible. The language is delivered with clarity and understanding, and the pure fun, the nonsense of the comedy, is unforced and very enjoyable. Best of all, it makes this altogether familiar play fresh and invigorating, a sweet trifle about love, the least trifling, the most serious and most comic of our emotions.

At the center of the play is Celia, the daughter of Duke Frederick and her cousin, Rosalind, the daughter of the deposed Duke Senior. The self-deluded and slightly ridiculous Orlando wishes to marry Rosalind, and so takes on Duke Frederick’s champion wrestler, Charles (Patrick Allcorn), to impress her. That is a very funny scene, as preposterous as anything in the WWF and equally as scripted. In any event, Rosalind will escape to the Forest, disguised as the boy, Ganymede and accompanied by Celia. There they will encounter a variety of free-spirits and from them learn the lessons which will ultimately allow them to make their proper connections in a grand wedding-for-eight finale. Following all the complications and general misdirection, and after the proper resolution, Rosalind returns to the stage to deliver an elegant and satisfyingly delivered epilogue. There are many excellent performances.

As Celia, Anne Kennedy is lovely, bright, and smartly animated, engaged in every moment of the play and bringing energy and connection to her friendship with Rosalind. As Rosalind, in the guise of the boy Ganymede, Marianne Savell really comes into her own in the second act, with wonderful speeches and an assertiveness that makes her quite the steadfast romantic hero, and all the independent woman Orlando could ever want. These two women make a wonderful pair on what is essentially a road-trip through an “All You Need Is Love” Eden.

Orlando (Aaron Lamb) was fine as the unfairly treated second son, a bit of a tender-souled dullard, but pure of heart. His older brother, Oliver, favored older son, whom we first meet on the golf course, is a big, handsome lunk who would clearly make a good catch for Celia, though she will almost certainly be the Captain of that ship. In other roles, Bob Borwick brought to the fool, Touchstone, incredible comic invention and energy. Don Brady plays the banished Duke Senior’s loyal advisor, Jacques, with disarming substance. His “Seven Ages of Man” speech was convincing and felt organically discovered rather than an overly performed monologue. Everyone in the cast, with Lund’s direction, made the text belong to this place and circumstance, and that’s the ultimate proof of the authority of her directorial choice. The dynamics of telling the story through the social schism’s and cultural inventions of that turbulent period make Shakespeare’s story feel both current and timeless. What more can you ask?

I thoroughly enjoyed this production of “As You Like It”. Even choices like using snippets of Top-40 pop songs from the period between scenes felt cute but never too cute – a passing gesture and a slight bemusement to go along with the rest of the affectionate humor. Other songs used in the performance (and well sung) neatly melded Shakespearean lyrics to 1960’s melodies. The political tensions of the first act fit well into the bureaucracy of the Whitehouse, but also clearly belong to the political tensions in all times and places. Lund never lets her concept become heavy-handed or obvious, nor does she force the implied argument for a natural life in opposition to the “civilized” one of society. Above all, this production feels totally at ease with itself, consistent in person, place and time, with people who desire and abide each other in fairly equal measure, and with genuine longings for love and romance that never change.

PICTURED ABOVE: L to R: Marianne Savell (Rosalind), Bob Borwick (Touchstone) and Anne Kennedy (Celia) in As You Like It. Photo by Erik Stuhaug.

Written by:
Jerry Kraft

Added: February 4th 2008

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