Saturday, August 26, 2017

As You Like It (review)

Spoilers ahoy!

Although an early work, Shakespeare's As You Like It (now showing by the Anteaus Theatre Company) proves surprisingly tricky to pull off in tone.  Maybe because its genre--pastoral romance--has pretty much vanished.  Or perhaps the complexity of the work simply exists, confusing some actors and directors.

But pulling it off does evoke some real wonders!

The plot frankly comes across as both simple and a tad complex.  Plus, let us 
face it, silly.   Rosalynd (Sally Hughes) and Orlando (Matthew Gallenstein) fall in love at first sight, just as they both earn the disfavor of the Duke (Brian A
braham) who is Rosalynd's uncle.  So disguising herself as a boy, Rosalynd flees the court with the Duke's daughter Celia (Desiree Me Jung), who is her best friend, along with local Jester (J.D.Cullum) into the Forest of Arden where all the exiles hide out.  Orlando follows, unknowingly, meets Rosalynd-as-a-boy and does not recognize her with gentle merry mixups ensue.  Along the way, lots more couples hook up.  I mean a lot!

What makes this play so special, or so it seems to me, is how in the midst of the pastoral setting and silly goings-on, the hearts and lives of the characters remain vulnerable, tender, filled with hope and fear.  "Oh what fools these mortals be" says another character in another play, but how appropriate for this one!

Because we are fools.  All different kinds of fools.  In the silence of the woods, maybe we can realize that, and in the process find some peace.  Even love.

Many productions of As You Like It seem to rise and fall on the portrayal of Jacques, a melancholy scholar turned wanderer who gives the plays' most famous speech.  "All the world's a stage" he says, "the men and women upon it merely players."  Such a witty line!  Such a clever speech!  But fueled by a sad kindness, at least when done for full effect as James Sutorius does in the role.  Truly, he does a magnificent job, because he does more than make you laugh, he makes you think and in thinking maybe makes you start to cry.

Nor is he alone!  Because the story of the entire cast is like that.  Everybody does foolish things, brave and sometimes wonderful or dangerous acts--many at exactly the same time!  The world changes.  We change.  We cannot help it.  And even that most delightful of changes--to fall in love, and be loved in return--how can it not inspire terror?  So maybe the Forest of Arden is perfect place to flee!

Hence this idyllic setting, and the gentle poking at all the flaws of humankind, exposed by a terrific cast of actors under some exemplary directing by Rob Clare.  Too often productions focus on the frenzied gags and hurrying to the next set piece of humor.  But we laugh all the harder when we care.  And we do.  Because when we care, we need to laugh.

As You Like It plays Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm as well as Saturdays and Sundays at 2pm through September 10, 2017 at the Kiki & David Grindler Performing Arts Center, 110 East Broadway, Glendale CA 91205.

Photo credits:  Daniel G. Lam

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