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BWW Review: AS YOU LIKE IT is a Homegrown Retelling of the Beloved Shakespearean Classic.

BWW Review: AS YOU LIKE IT is a Homegrown Retelling of the Beloved Shakespearean Classic.
Courtesy of Austin Shakespeare

AS YOU LIKE IT is the latest offering from Austin Shakespeare. Presented as part of the company's 2019-2020 season, this bucolic comedy by William Shakespeare is a tale of love, hidden identities, and country life. The play, believed to have been written in 1599 and first published in 1623, remains an audience favorite to this day. Many notable actors have been featured in productions on both stage and screen. Most recently in film, the play was adapted for HBO in 2006 by Kenneth Branagh and starred Bryce Dallas Howard as Rosalind.

AS YOU LIKE IT follows the young heroine Rosalind (Emily Christine Smith) who has been banished by her tyrannical uncle, Duke Frederick (Chuck Winkler). Rosalind escapes into the forest of Arden with her cousin, Celia (Brooke Culbertson) and motley fool, Touchstone (Patrick Wheeler). There they run into Rosalind's love from home, Orlando (Matthew Graham Wagner) and a host of other characters in her father, Duke Senior's (also played by Chuck Winkler) pastoral court. Disguised as a young male shepherd, Rosalind convinces Orlando to "woo" her in hopes of curing him of his love for "Rosalind." Predictably shenanigans ensue, but all ends happily for the young lovers and company.

Directed by Ann Ciccolella, Austin Shakespeare's production embraces the fun and frivolity of the popular comedy while fully realizing the language of Shakespeare. Emily Christine Smith as Rosalind is the guiding light during the two-act show. Smith's portrayal of the young woman setting out on her own is full of exuberance and enthusiasm. Matthew Graham Wagner as Orlando is the ideal counterpart to Smith's vibrant Rosalind. Wagner's good-natured and grounding presence balances the energy and passion of his and Smith's characters. Patrick Wheeler finds his footing as the hilarious Touchstone. Wheeler's quick wit and animated mannerisms are delightful and make his supporting performance the strongest. Other standouts include Brooke Culbertson as the sweet and loyal Celia, Peter Young as the melancholy Jaques, and Helyn Rain Messenger as the sharp-tongued Phebe.

Setting it apart from other Shakespearean productions, Ciccollela incorporates live musical performances. Following a long-standing tradition featured in early performances of Shakespeare, this production infuses the story with contemporary songs of local singer/songwriters. Coordinated by Rod Caspers, these homespun numbers add richness and aptly complement the unique circumstances throughout the play. Favorite musical numbers include, "Wide Open Spaces" (Emily Christine Smith and Brooke Culbertson), "Comes From The Heart" (Cast), and "In Your Love" (Web Jerome as Audrey).

In keeping with Austin's long-established "weirdness," the production adopts a relaxed and playful feel which is visible throughout the show's design elements. This is seen predominantly in the work of scenic designer, Tara A. Houston. Houston's woodland set feels like something out of a storybook with large whimsical tree cutouts placed around the stage. These cutouts are also hung from the rafters of the theater, which allows the forest of Arden to continue skyward. The bohemian vibe is also present in the costume design of Aaron Kubacak. In his own words, Kubacak sought to use southwest fashion as a medium to combine the, "Western, Renaissance, and Outlaw/Frontiersmen styles," in his designs. This fanciful amalgam is seen most successfully during act two in the rural court of Duke Senior.

AS YOU LIKE IT is a homegrown retelling of the beloved Shakespearean classic. Austin Shakespeare succeeds in providing an excellent production that is both relatable and accessible to theatergoers. With an entertaining story and exceptional performances, AS YOU LIKE IT makes a great addition to your holiday or weekend festivities.

AS YOU LIKE IT is now playing at the Rollins Theatre at the Long Center (701 Riverside Drive) through December 8th. Wednesday through Saturday at 7:30pm and Sundays at 3:00pm. No performance on Thanksgiving Day.

Running time (approximately): 2 hours and 15 minutes with 15-minute intermission

Ticket Prices: $35 *$18 Student Tickets with ID

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From This Author Lacey Cannon Gonzales