BWW Review: AS YOU LIKE IT - A Blissfully Flawless Production
William Shakespeare's AS YOU LIKE IT, by Shrewd Productions and playing at Trinity Street Theatre is a blissful, flawless evening at the theatre. Shakespeare's most complicated and difficult to stage comedy, AS YOU LIKE IT, may not be as beloved as MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING or A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM but in the deft hands of Director Lily Wolff and a superior cast nothing could look easier.
At the opening of the play, Duke Frederick (David Boss) has usurped the title of his elder brother, Duke Senior (Fritz Ketchum). Duke Senior has taken up residence in the Forest of Arden with his band of loyal followers, leaving his daughter, Rosalind (Shannon Grounds), behind with her cousin Celia (Robin Grace Thompson) at court. Into this situation, enter Orlando (Kriston Woodreaux) and Oliver de Boys (Anderá Smith), two brothers divided by enmity. When Orlando enters a wrestling match sponsored by Duke Frederick, Oliver tells his opponent, Charles (Michael Mergen) that he would be happy if his brother were killed. To the surprise of all, Orlando wins the match. In doing so, he attracts the romantic attention of Rosalind. Orlando and his servant, Adam (Robert Deike), escape into the Arden forest. Duke Frederick decides to banish Rosalind to Arden as he did with her father. Celia, Frederick's daughter, declares that she will accompany her in exile. Rosalind disguises herself as a boy named Ganymede, while Celia assumes the part of "his" sister, Aliena. They are accompanied by the clown Touchstone (Julie Moore).
Orlando soon finds himself in the company of Duke Senior's men, Jacques (Molly Fonseca) and Amiens (Taylor Flanagan), pining for his lost Rosalind. Rosalind, meanwhile, purchases a flock of sheep and a pasture, and sets out to lead a peaceful life in exile. Before long, however, Orlando's lovesick ritual of carving Rosalind's name in the trees and leaving poems scattered about the forest tip her off to his presence. Still disguised as Ganymede, Rosalind seeks out Orlando to get a better sense of his feelings for her. She promises to ease Orlando's heartache by letting him pour his feelings out to Ganymede as if "he" were Rosalind. Rosalind also attempts a match between Silvius (Kevin Moxley) and Phebe (Voloneecia Tolbert) that goes awry when Phebe falls instead for Rosalind/Ganymede. Meanwhile, Touchstone courts a country girl named Audrey (David Boss), adding to the multiple romance plots. The show ends, as usual in Shakespearean comedy, when everyone is happy, families are reunited and old wounds are healed.
This production adds several elements of note, the first is the use of the space. The First Baptist Church which houses Trinity Street Theatre has multiple levels and a beautiful courtyard that are used to great effect. The audience is ushered outdoors for the initial scene and then observe from an upper floor as the action continues inside the building. Attendants lead the spectators upstairs to the theatre itself for the remainder of the show. The use of the available space is brilliant and enchanting. The next, and most notable element is switching the sex of many of the traditional roles. This has been done so many times in so many ways, but the choice to not change the names or pronouns from Shakespeare's text was refreshing and worked surprisingly well. Adding to the overwhelming charm of AS YOU LIKE IT is the music, composed by T. Lynn Mikeska and beautifully performed by the cast. The lighting design by Patrick Anthony is subtle and alluring, using a 'less is more' ethic to perfection. It is incredibly difficult to single out any outstanding performances among a cast that is so uniformly superior, but I especially enjoyed Shannon Grounds as Rosalind, she played the iconic character with unconscious grace and humor. Kiston Woodreaux as Orlando, is romantic and effortless. Andreá Smith as Oliver is commanding and when the character faces his redemption the transition is rewarding. Fritz Ketchum as Duke Senior plays the elder exile with elegance. Taylor Flanagan as Amiens adds her angelic voice to several songs and virtually glows with energy. Michael Mergen as Charles the wrestler is hysterical, his physical comedy skills are top notch. Molly Fonseca as Jacques, delivers some of the world's most famous lines in a truly inspiring performance. Julie Moore as Touchstone is the epitome of the Shakespearean clown, eliciting belly laughs throughout the show. The highest praise is reserved for Director Lily Wolff who keeps the pace moving, staging scenes in continuous motion, never leaving the audience waiting.
The entire performance is a pure joy to watch and is a must see for every theatre fan.
AS YOU LIKE IT by William Shakespeare, Directed by Lily Wolff
Shrewd Productions at Trinity Street Theatre, 901 Trinity Street, Austin
February 19 - March 6, Thursdays - Sundays at 8pm
Tickets: $20 on Thursdays and Sundays
$25 on Fridays and Saturdays
$18-$23 Students/Seniors/Starving Artists