As You Like It is, while still a popular Shakespeare play, still debated in merit. A lot of scholars see the plot as frivolous. What tension there is comes out of Rosalind’s insistence on playing a game with her suitor’s heart while in the forest of Arden. It’s rather like a sitcom, where one character has to carry the “Idiot Ball” to get the plot to go. And yet, As You Like It is still well loved (that’s one of the reasons I picked it, after all). Partly because it’s funny, partly because there are entertaining exchanges when the main characters have good chemistry, and partly because the theme – that love makes fools of everyone – still resonates.
The Longwood Players, just wrapping their fall performance of As You Like It, introduced some interesting conceits to the production. Some didn’t really work, like having the cast sit in the audience and take to the stage, donning their costumes anew, as they began each scene. The act of changing in and out of each costume created a lot of visual noise onstage that distracted from the scene. It looked especially ridiculous in some of the usurping Duchess’s shorter scenes – entering, just finishing tying on her bustle as she delivered her last line, then exiting.
However, the conceit of addressing the minor characters in the plot did work. They broke the fourth wall just long enough to drag the “usher” onstage, thrusting a script into his hands and casting him as Dennis, Charles the wrestler, Corin the old shepherd, Amiens of the exiled Duke’s retinue, and so on. This gag took a while to pay off and jeopardized a few scenes in the meantime, such as Touchstone’s “Instance, briefly; come, instance” scene with Corin. However, it paid off big by the end, so I can’t complain that much.
And the performances themselves were all fine. Rosalind (Joy Lamberton*) and Celia (Anna Waldron) had the flawless chemistry they needed to make those roles work; both have excellent comic timing and good sincerity. Jaques (Anthony Mullin) played Shakespeare’s most verbose fool with just the right touch of pomposity, while Touchstone (James Aitchison) navigated several tricky speeches with perfect delivery. I’d never seen a performance of As You Like It which cast Phebe (Sierra Nicole Kagan) as a frumpy bully rather than a prissy bitch, but it worked hilariously well here. And Greg Nussen was wasted in the role of Silvius; he had the comic timing and charm to carry the lead role.
*Apparently an understudy or a late change to the cast, as she’s not the actor pictured in the press release photo above. She pulled it off flawlessly, so the director got lucky.