SOUTH SALT LAKE — The Utah Children’s Theatre advertises their summer Shakespeare productions as being intended for “children and adults with short attention spans.” Running less than 90 minutes (including intermission) and packed with humor, their production of As You Like It fits the bill.
One of Shakespeare’s most beloved comedies, As You Like It is the story of the romance between Orlando and Rosalind, children of dukes. Both have been exiled unjustly from the court to the forest of Arden. For safety in the forest Rosalind disguises herself as a young man named Ganymede. But she soon discovers that the disguise makes it hard to woo Orlando.
Director Jessica Pearce succeeded in created a show that moves quickly without feeling rushed. Scenes clip along nicely, and there was never any dead time or awkwardness on stage. Pearce also gave every actor fun little bits of stage business that added humor and charm to every scene. More substantively, Pearce created an excellent transition from the court to the forest of Arden, and the contrast between the two settings was so obvious that younger audience members can easily grasp the shift in location (even though the set did not change).
Lexi Thomsen creates an endearing Rosalind, whether she was pleading with Duke Frederick (played by Zach Vayo) to not exile her, or plotting how she would get Orlando to marry her. I also enjoyed how Thomsen created a nuanced performance while dressed as Ganymede. Instead of just playing a man, she played Rosalind trying to play a man—a subtle difference that added complexity to her scenes. By her side for most scenes was Allison Froh as Celia, Rosalind’s friend and confidante. The devotion and unfailing friendship that Celia had for Rosalind was apparent as Froh showed concern and compassion in scenes, such as their final court scene and when Rosalind flirts with Orlando while dressed as Ganymede.
As Orlando, Luke Vayo was strongest in the court scenes, where the character seemed to be at home in the refined, orderly life of civilized society. In the forest of Arden, though, the character basically bides his time, pining away as a lovesick fool and waiting for Rosalind to reveal herself. This gave the actor less material to work with, and the performance suffered as a result. The script also makes it difficult for Orlando and Rosalind to build a relationship because the two are hardly on stage together without Rosalind being disguised as a man. As a result, Thomsen and Luke Vayo showed little romantic chemistry with one another.
The supporting cast of As You Like It is surprisingly young, given the quality of this Shakespeare production. As Oliver (Orlando’s brother), Spencer Hohl had a believable change of heart and an excellent song in the second half of the play. The fight that Tennessee Tarrant (as Charles the wrestler) had with Orlando was exciting and realistic. And Tyler Miller‘s simple-minded Silvius had a great running gag that had me chuckling in each of his scenes. The other ensemble members excelled at creating the rustic feel of the forest of Arden.
Visually, the highlight of the evening was Thomas Hohl’s lighting design, which communicated scene changes effectively (important when the set never changes) and established an appropriate mood for every scene. The yellow lighting for the fight scene and the brightness of the final wedding scene were particularly noteworthy.
Despite the best efforts of cast and crew, there were some shortcomings in the play. Jacob Harmon played the role of Touchstone too seriously, which is fatal to a portrayal of a Shakespearean clown; the earnestness of his performance robbed the Touchstone-Audrey romance of its humor. Additionally, some of the costume pieces seemed to be lower quality, and the design (by Karissa Nelson, Cathy Maurer, and Christina Wilson) was unified for some scenes (like the famous “All the world’s a stage” scene) than others (like the court scenes). Finally, the script cutting reduces the secondary characters (especially Jaques) to mere talking set pieces.
But do these flaws matter? No. The purpose of this production is to create a digestible, fun, accessible Shakespeare play that shows newcomers that Shakespeare isn’t boring. Judged by this standard, As You Like It is a success. Pearce and her cast have created a production that strips the intimidation and fear from Shakespeare’s work and shows the audience how joyful a Shakespeare play can be. So, bring your kids, your coworkers, or your friends to this show. It may just be as you like it.