PROVO — At the Castle Amphitheater, audiences can take a trip to the Forest of Arden, where Shakespeare‘s mix of exiled courtiers and idealized shepherds mingle about in idyllic repose. As You Like It is playing now at the Castle Amphitheater, and while Renaissance Now Theatre and Film has most of the ingredients for a worthwhile production, those pieces lack the cohesion to create satisfying show.
The biggest problem in this production is that the cast is inconsistent in its quality. Too few people in its cast of 13 created interesting performances. Joel Applegate, for example, was bland in his portrayal of Duke Frederick and Duke Senior. Neither character was distinguishable from the other, and Applegate showed little emotion, even at intense times of the play, such as when Duke Frederick was banishing the main female characters, or when Duke Senior had Orlando pointing a knife at him. Applegate also stumbled over a few of his lines and hesitated to respond to his cues.
Two other weak links in the cast were Dallin Suman as Silvius and Bella Thomas as Adam and Corin. Suman was not convincing as a lovestruck lover who wants to pursue a woman at all costs. His energy and emotion were too low for the role. Thomas’s line deliveries were all bland and monotone, and she seemed to suck the momentum out of many of her scenes.
At the other side of the spectrum, Olivia Casper was an enthusiastic, savvy Rosalind. Casper’s mastery of the Shakespearean language and her genuine concern for the other characters were one of the great strengths of this As You Like It. Her Rosalind seemed to care about the shepherds Phoebe and Silvius, and Casper made it believable that Rosalind would involve herself with these bumpkins’ happiness.
Casper’s best moments were with Kiersten Zundel, who played Celia. The two characters had every appearance of close friends, and their “girl talk” when discussing Orlando was completely real. The deep friendship made Celia’s devotion towards Rosalind provided a touch of sweetness that prepared the show for the shift to the peaceful Forest of Arden.
Alex Gunter played Orlando as forthright and decisive, which was a welcome change from the mopey Orlandos I have seen in the past. Gunter’s youthful face and wide eyes give Orlando a naive innocence that make the character’s trust in “Ganymede” (a disguised Rosalind) work well. That naiveté also gave Orlando’s declarations of love an energetic passion that strengthened the show’s romantic core.
Although there were some strong actors in the cast, this production faltered because the connections among the performers were often missing (with the exception of the friendship between Celia and Rosalind). In some scenes, such as when Rosalind discovers Orlando’s love notes, the actors seem to be doing their own thing. The result were some fine monologues, but unsatisfying scenes. I wish the director, Cleveland McKay Nicoll, had helped his cast discover the human relationships among the characters.
On the other hand, I did like Nicoll’s decision to have Orlando discover that “Ganymede” was really Rosalind before she revels the information to the other characters. The choice made Orlando a smarter character than usual and intrigued me for the last act and a half of the play.
Nicoll also designed the costumes and set. He set As You Like It in modern times, and I liked the result. The choice of disguise for Rosalind hid Casper’s feminine silhouette and made her a convincing man. The shepherds were dressed in Western wear, which served as a reminder of the different social background for them, compared to the exiled nobles. I liked the set, with its simple platforms that provided some variety in staging; the ivy used to decorate the low platforms was a nice touch that helped me connect to the forest scenes. Finally, I enjoyed the columns decorated like aspen trunks, which added some realism to the designs.
This production of As You Like It has some flaws, especially in the acting. However, it has its merits, too, and I think that audiences should not dismiss it out of hand. As You Like It is a lovely way to spend a summer evening, especially as the sun sets behind the actors and the breeze kicks up. The Castle Amphitheater is Provo’s own little Forest of Arden, and a brief escape with some Shakespearean characters—even if only for 90 minutes—is a treat.