Shakespeare & Company concluded its season from the Bard on a perfect end-of-summer note Labor Day weekend with “As You Like It” presented outside, in the round (more or less) in the Roman Garden Theatre at its Lenox campus. Director Allyn Burrows places Shakespeare’s romantic comedy In The Roaring Twenties, tapping into the abandon and changing values of the rollicking Prohibition era.
At its core, “As You Like It” it’s a love story between unlikely lovers, the royal Rosalind and commoner Orlando. Family feuds figure large. Rosalind is banished from the court by her dastardly uncle, the Duke, who has exiled her father, his older brother from whom he's usurped the Duchy. Orlando, too, flees after fighting with his older brother Oliver. Most of the play occurs in the forest where Rosalind, her cousin Celia, and maidservant Touchstone have fled, and, separately, Orlando, too. Rosalind and Orlando cross paths. It’s love at first site, but Rosalind and Celia, to protect themselves, don disguises, Rosalind as Ganymede, a man.
Director Burrows skillfully trims the play down to 15 characters, played by a versatile cast of nine. He cleverly recasts Touchstone, the manservant in the Bard’s original, as maid, so the dim-witted Audrey now becomes Aubrey. Brilliantly played by MaConnia Chesser and Thomas Brazzle, the irresistible eccentrics are the scene-stealers, but the entire cast is fine. Aimee Doherty as Rosalind, costumed as Ganymede recalls Katherine Hepburn in “Sylvia Scarlet”. Deaon Griffin-Pressley as Orlando captures perfectly the naïve exuberance of young love.
There might have been more sexual gaming in the gender play between Orlando and Rosalind (as Ganymede) but hunter Phoebe’s infatuation with Ganymede (the real Rosalind) and the hilarious erotics between Touchstone and Aubrey compensate. Movement coach Karen Beaumont and director Burrows nail the fight scenes between Orlando and his brother, and then between Orlando and Charles, a court wrestler. Dust really flies from the mulch cover in the garden theatre. Gregory Boover as shepherd Silvius, who desperately pines for Phoebe, leads the ensemble on his guitar in folksy ballads about pastoral life, which contrasts nicely with inter-scene background music of café-society tunes from the Twenties.
Mark Zeisler as Jacques, a discontented lord, has a melancholic turn at one of the most famous of Shakespeare’s soliloquies which starts “all the world’s a stage” chronicling the seven stages of man. In the end, in a series of typically Shakespearian, rapid-fire, delightful plot contrivances, three sets of couples are matched and two pairs of feuding brothers reunite. Rosalind concludes the coda just as a September sun sets over the Berkshire hills. Mirth is in the air. All’s well that ends well.
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