BWW Review: AS YOU LIKE IT - Excellent Shakespeare In An Idyllic Setting
William Shakespeare's AS YOU LIKE IT, by The Baron's Men and playing at The Curtain Theatre is an excellent production in a perfectly idyllic setting. Arguably Shakespeare's most complicated comedy, AS YOU LIKE IT, may not be as beloved as MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING or A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM but in the hands of first time director Michael Osborn, The Baron's Men have surpassed the norm to present a flawless and professional production.
Previous to the opening of the play, Duchess Frederique (Samantha Smith) has usurped the title of her elder brother, Duke Senior (Michael O'Keefe). Duke Senior has taken up residence in the Forest of Arden with a band of loyal followers, leaving his daughter, Rosalind (Kate Clark), behind with her cousin Celia (Jacquelyn Lies) at court. Added to the equation is Orlando (Harry Conner) and Oliver de Boys (Michael Pratt), two brothers divided by enmity. When Orlando enters a wrestling match sponsored by Duchess Frederique, Oliver tells his opponent, Charles (Travis Hagan) 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 (Julio Mella), escape into the Arden forest. Duchess Frederique decides to banish Rosalind to Arden as he did with her father. Celia, Frederique'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 (Jimmie Bragdon).
Orlando soon finds himself in the company of Duke Senior's men, the melancholy Jaques (Robert Deike) and troubadour Amiens (Gene Storie), 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, 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 a shepherd Silvius (Julio Mella) and Phebe (Phoebe Moore) that goes awry when Phebe falls instead for Rosalind/Ganymede. Meanwhile, Touchstone courts a country girl named Audrey (Joanna Casey), adding to the multiple romantic plots. The show ends, as is usual in Shakespearean comedy, when everyone is happy, families are reunited and old wounds are healed. Known for Jaques' famous Seven Ages of Man speech, AS YOU LIKE IT is also the most musical of Shakespeare's plays.
I have seen many shows produced by The Baron's Men over the years and I must say that AS YOU LIKE IT surpasses them all on every level. Director Michael Osborn, a long time company member and actor hits all the right notes in his directorial debut with the company. He manages to get outstanding performances out of every actor, his staging is efficient, attractive and exciting. As a Shakespeare fan, I often find performances disappointing because details that make the script so universal have been left out. Osborn has hit the mark, leaving no small part of the performance unfinished. The cast is excellent from top to bottom, they are uniformly wonderful starting with Harry Conner as Orlando, the lovesick swain, he brings an inner light to the character that is very charming. As Rosalind, Kate Clark is outstanding, she shifts into the male role of Ganymede with ease and humor. Gene Storie as Amiens shows off his beautiful voice as Duke Senior's minstrel accompanied by Travis Hagen on the guitar. My favorite, among a stellar cast, is Jacquelyn Lies who plays Celia, Rosalind's dearest friend and cousin with a twinkle in her eye that is absolutely magnetic. She draws the audience in with giggling glee and makes us fall in love with her. Costumes by Leigh Hegedus are sumptuous, using color and texture to great effect. The simple set of tree stumps and a large silken banner is lovely and gives uses the slight breeze off of the lake wonderfully. Everything adds up to a brilliant production that is the rival of bigger Shakespeare companies in the Austin area.
I give my highest recommendation to AS YOU LIKE IT at the beautiful Curtain Theatre. The time of year is perfect for a picnic before the show. Pack dinner, sit under the trees and gaze at the lake, then take in a wonderful Shakespearean comedy, while the stars shine above.
AS YOU LIKE IT
by William Shakespeare
Directed by Michael Osborn
The Curtain Theatre
7400 Coldwater Canyon Drive, Austin
March 31 - April 22 at 8:00 PM
Running Time: 2 hours 15 minutes with one 15 minute intermission
Tickets: $10 - $15, thebaronsmen.org