Story: Following the banishment of Duke Senior by his brother, Duke Frederick, the former’s daughter Rosalind subsequently flees under threat of death to the Forest of Arden, where her father and his entourage now reside. With her goes her cousin and best friend, Frederick’s daughter Celia, masquerading as a young man named Ganymede and his sister Aliena, respectively, to conceal their identities.
Also leaving the court for self-preservation is Orlando, whose older brother Oliver has encouraged the court wrestler Charles to injure Orlando. Instead, Orlando won the contest and the heart of Rosalind before Duke Frederick realized that Orlando was the son of his detested enemy, Sir Rowland de Bois. Orlando searches for Rosalind in the forest, where he meets Ganymede, who instructs him in love by pretending to be Rosalind (got that?).
A number of other characters come and go, falling in love along the way, and further complicating the situation until the requisite happy ending quickly ties up all the plot lines.
Highlights: Shakespeare’s comedies often can be convoluted and confusing to non-experts in an audience, and As You Like It certainly is no exception. The absurdities of the Bard’s plot threads in this work are ridiculously and abruptly concluded, but hey, the play’s the thing, right?
In any event, the current production directed by Brian Peters at St. Louis Shakespeare features appealing performances by Betsy Bowman and Aaron Dodd in the pivotal roles of Rosalind/Ganymede and Orlando, which more than make up for some weaker efforts by performers in minor roles. With the able assistance of Maggie Murphy as the spirited Celia and the brisk pace and steady guidance of Peters, As You Like It offers its share of enjoyable moments.
Other Info: Director Peters has some glitches in the production, notably musical interludes that are more unfortunate than entertaining. The scenic design mounted by Christie Johnson, though, is charming in its simplicity, allowing easy access to the stage by the myriad players through an ephemeral arrangement of cloths that represent Arden and a pair of gates for the court.
Jeff Roberts’ sound design provides smooth madrigal background music, although the songs performed by a cast member could be dropped entirely. Jaime Zayas contributes lighting, Beth Ashby designed the costumes and V. Kay offers some pleasant choreography, while assistant director and props master Suki Peters adds some clever touches, notably a medieval whisk broom and the jester’s stick.
Bowman is charming and ebullient as the optimistic Rosalind. Her charisma carries the production on a wave of effervescence. Murphy contributes substantially to that effect as well with a rousing portrayal of the determined Celia. As Orlando, Dodd shows a strong command and understanding of the Bard’s lyrical lines and projects delightful chemistry with Bowman as the confused Orlando is put through Byzantine measures to demonstrate his love.
Robert Ashton is more convincing as the kindly Duke Senior than the nefarious Duke Frederick. Likewise, Carl Overly Jr. seems more comfortable as Charles the wrestler than his rather silly portrayal of elderly shepherd Corin.
The impish court jester Touchstone is given a grand reading by Tim Callahan and Steve Wozniak makes a splendid Adam, Orlando’s aged servant. Tasha Zebrowski and Michael Pierce bring a welcome jolt of vitality to their parts as the lovestruck shepherdess Phoebe and Silvius, the young shepherd she spurns while she unsuccessfully pursues Ganymede.
Christopher LaBanca has some of the work’s finest lines as the melancholy lord Jacques, but his adequate performance fails to bolster Jacques’ “All the world’s a stage” reflection with the gravitas it deserves. Chuck Brinkley is a better actor than a singer as Amiens, Anthony Wininger is OK as Oliver and Elizabeth Breed is enthusiastic as the salty country girl Aubrey. Others in the troupe include Andrew Weber, Maxwell Knocke and Joey Combs.
It’s an uneven cast of one of the Bard’s more improbable plays, but Brian Peters and his team bring plenty of energy and enough winning performances to make As You Like It pleasurable entertainment.
Play: As You Like It
Group: St. Louis Shakespeare
Venue: Hunter Theatre, DeSmet High School
Dates: March 21, 22, 23, 24
Tickets: $15-$25; contact 361-5664 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Rating: A 4 on a scale of 1-to-5.
Photos courtesy of Brian Peters