MAGNA — As You Like It, by William Shakespeare, tells the story of political intrigue, founded by Duke Frederick’s ousting of his brother, Duke Senior. Senior’s daughter Rosalind is permitted to stay at court, a privilege of being best friend to the Frederick’s daughter Celia—however Rosalind is quickly banished when news of her affections for one Orlando becomes known. Rosalind and Celia flee to the forests of Arden, and in a move to protect themselves, don disguises. Rosalind dresses as a boy and takes on the name Ganymede, whereas Celia tones down her natural beauty and becomes Aliena. Happenstance brings Orlando to the woods as well, where he meets his amour in masculine disguise and does not recognize her; a pact is made that Orlando will practice his wooing of Rosalind on the man Ganymede. Misplaced love and disguises abound in this Shakesperean comedy, wrapped up in the Bard’s typical neat fashion at the end. The Empress takes on this classical canon as a part of their current season, and to great comedic effect.
The production worked, for the most part, though suffered in terms of pacing. Each scene was separated by a blackout and set transition, no underscoring or visual stimuli save for the darkened image of actors moving pieces. Using the smaller scenes to mask transitions would have condensed the considerable length of the play and kept momentum of energy building. Instead, actors were left to rebuild energy at the beginning of every scene. Capitalizing on the energy of the previous scene, instead of having to warm the actors up with each transition might have proven more effective to performance. The second half of the play itself worked to help resolve this issue, however, as exposition made up a great deal of the first portion. Delivery of lines themselves worked in intent to deliver meaning with clarity. Many of the actors managed to make the dialogue clear and easy to follow. I appreciated the words themselves, though many of the moments in between dialogue felt almost too indulgent—as if the physical humor and side-jokes were being given precedent over the content of story. These pauses disrupted pace set by the dialogue, and somewhat dragged, although certainly served their comedic purpose. So, although the delivery of the dialogue could have had an emphasis on the story, this production was unquestionably funny.
The decision to set the production in a rustic, Dukes of Hazzard-esque sort of landscape did not initially resonate, though as costuming choices (by Jake Anderson and Amy Burton) became stronger, I found myself enjoying the overall effect. I wasn’t bothered that different dialects and nuances of a Southern/country air didn’t make up a cohesive whole—the jumble worked, and didn’t detract from the performance. Props and dialects fostered an environment that ultimately did not detract from the viewing experience, and indeed, lent to a boost in moments of comedy. The space itself was quite charming and lent a rustic air to the show. I was particularly impressed by director Jordan Cammack’s use of space, both in the upper tier and the thrust stage below. Blocking always felt balanced and painted clear pictures, and all sides of the stage given ample opportunity to enjoy the action onstage. Movements generally felt motivated and helped to tell a clear story.Characterization brought an interesting question to the evening’s performance. Certainly, the fruition of several presences on stage seemed at odds with the usual interpretation of characters. Most notably, this could be said for Jaques (Darian Oliphant), who is said to be melancholy. Traditionally, he is painted as a great thinker, one that serves to reflect on the thematic elements of the play and less of a participant in the actions himself, and yet the contemplative, thoughtful air seemed missing in entirety. This is not to say he was not charming, but that the usual energy perpetuated by the character was missing. Rosalind too, when she becomes “Ganymede” lacked a driving masculine force that made her an object of desire for Phoebe. Shades of a very feminine Rosalind existed, whereas I would have liked to see the challenge of playing a believable young man, expressed perhaps in physicality and verbal differentiation. I didn’t necessarily believe that she played a convincing male—and it was easy to condemn Orlando for not seeing through her disguise almost immediately. Oliver de Boys’ (Geoffery Gregory) change of heart, from frosty to loving older brother seemed perpetuated by very little—although it should be noted his character quickly turned into one of my personal favorites.
I would commend the actors for their strong character choices, and an appropriate level of caricatured reality to better assist in what could easily have devolved into a confusing storyline. Among the cast members, Touchstone (Colby Nash) stood out. His presence on stage resonated with a profundity, strong grounding and confidence making him wonderful to watch. The fun he seemed to have on stage was contagious, and I found myself eagerly anticipating his scenes. Ana Lemke as Rosalind brought a similarly exciting momentum with her, and delivered her performance with a lovely sincerity, reflecting the heroine’s plight in an altogether charming manner. And of mention was David Pack as Adam, bringing a casual, intriguing depth to his performance. The ease and relaxed command he exhibited on stage certainly was pleasant to watch.Was this a typical As You Like It? Not necessarily. Shakespeare’s intended structure remained the same, and despite an initially vague redneck setting, played out to great effect. The basis of brilliant narrative remained inherently written in the lines, and solid delivery at an understandable level allowed the tenets of storyline to be clearly spelled out for those in attendance. Although the pacing generally lagged in the first half, a greater sense of playing on stage really amped up the energy and made the second half of the show much more fun and enjoyable. Technical elements took backstage to a story-driven show, and for that, I was appreciative of the plot’s clarity. I would recommend this show to those seeking to an easy, enjoyable introduction to Shakespeare. Perhaps some finesse and toning of the show’s concept/design would give benefit to the overall product, but it was a fun show all the same.