BWW Review: AS YOU LIKE IT at Seattle Shakespeare
AS YOU LIKE IT by Seattle Shakespeare Company is a grab bag of experiences. It has moments of delight mixed with quite a few confusing bits. The show takes a while to get going, but then the comedy pulls it along with fresh energy. At times it seemed as if some of the characters were in a different show altogether, projecting a very different tone and vibe. The visuals were both appealing in sets and confusing in costumes. The acting carried the day, but in the end the show left your scratching your head.
AS YOU LIKE IT is the story of new love, mistaken identity, sibling rivalry, and forgiveness. Duke Frederick has banished his sister Duke Senior but allowed his niece Rosalind, who is dear friends with his own daughter Celia, to stay at court. The young women watch the court wrestler be defeated by challenger Orlando, and Rosalind is immediately smitten. Orlando is not only fighting as entertainment but also fighting against the machinations of his jealous older brother Oliver. He flees into the forest of Arden for safety. Ever suspicious Duke Ferdinand banishes Rosalind, but is infuriated to learn that his own daughter has fled with her. The two women disguise themselves in order to travel safely: Rosalind as a young man, Ganymede, and Celia as Aliena. The Arden Forest now becomes a playground for love, reunion, forgiveness, and intrigue.
The show takes a painfully long time to set up the action which moves at a much faster pace in the second act. The first act is saved by the delightfully playful presence of Sunam Ellis as Celia. Whether teasing her cousin or reacting to the budding romance of Rosalind and Orlando, Ellis reminds us that we are here to have fun. Jonelle Jordan as Rosalind comes into her own in the second act. She is commanding in her portrayal of Rosalind disguised as Ganymede as she both forces Orlando to prove his affection while barely containing her own. Rebecca M. Davis as Touchstone adds some much needed comedy in the connecting scenes. Corey McDaniel plays the part of Oliver with intensity and grit. So much so that his presence in the first act often feels like it belongs in high drama rather than in a comedy. However, it was still more interesting than many of the other parts of act one. Quinlan Corbett as Orlando charmed and swooned and charmed some more.
The show included some lovely guitar playing by Corbett as well as singing by various cast members. AS YOU LIKE IT is known as a musical comedy due to the number of songs in the show. Their inclusion is natural element as when any group is gathered in the woods in the evening, a song is bound to break out. However, in this show, they missed the natural element by using recorded music with too many instruments. The guitar is a natural choice, but then you are jarred when you here violins. It felt artificial and out of place. Even more confusing is that the accompaniment didn't provide the melody notes to help the actors stay on pitch. It was a struggle, and I felt for them.
Adding to the confusion was a mish mash of costumes that seemed to come from every different time and place. While I'm certain there must have been a plan, some reasoning for the deliberate choices, I spent way too much time trying to figure it out rather than just enjoying the show. The one moment of costuming clarity happened in the Arden Forest when Duke Senior and her party were gathered under the trees and the repeating plaid motif made for a lovely visual effect. Other scenes included white patent leather shoes, ponchos perfect for vaqueros, a women's pantsuit, English peasant garb, a white leather biker jacket, and an Inverness cape coat a la Sherlock Holmes. At least the scenic design made sense and provided interesting spaces for the actors to explore.
My biggest issues with the show stem from the script itself. While it is reasonable to assume that two young women might feel safer traveling in disguise, there is no good reason for Rosalind to continue with her charade after she has purchased a farm and is settled next to the Arden Forest. She has learned that her mother has also taken refuge in the forest and although the she adamantly stated her longing to see her dear mother at the top of the show, she seems in no hurry for the reunion now when she is so close. Additionally, it is more than a stretch to believe that Orlando would not recognize his love however well disguised when speaking with her face to face. Of course without the mistaken identity rouse, there is very little left of the play, so perhaps we must swallow the implausibility and allow it to take its course. Finally, my biggest issue with the story is that while in disguise Rosalind speaks so harshly of her own gender and without provocation. While it is surely a product of its time, it is no less frustrating to watch and hear and know how such words will act upon another generation's views.
In the grab bag of experiences, the show had both highs and lows. There were nice touches and jarring inclusions. The one steady element throughout was the solid acting and mastery of the Elizabethan tongue which is to be expected in a show by SSC. The beauty of theater is that there is something for everyone. Shakespeare will always be relevant. For me, this show either went too far or not far enough as I would have liked it to. But who knows? This particular production may be AS YOU LIKE IT.
AS YOU LIKE IT by Seattle Shakespeare Company is playing at Center Theatre now through May 19th. For tickets or more information, visit www.seattleshakespeare.org.