Director Charles McMahon takes a unique time-spanning approach to Shakespeare’s AS YOU LIKE IT, inserting passages of modern slapstick, present-day expressions, pop-culture gestures, direct-address asides, and original music with a post-modern beat into the well-known Elizabethan pastoral rom-com.
The classic-meets-current fusion makes for an interesting restatement of the play’s fundamental theme, written in both prose and verse, of contrasts and conflicts—sibling rivalries versus familial support, wisdom versus foolishness, injustice versus redemption, joy versus melancholy, and true love versus misdirected infatuation—within the fanciful story of aristocratic cousins Rosalind (Liz Filios) and Celia (Ruby Wolf), who disguise themselves as a boy (Ganymede) and a shepherdess (Aliena) to escape the Machiavellian maneuvers of the ducal court of their fathers for the natural freedom of the forest.
A multi-talented ensemble of actors/musicians playing multiple roles and instruments brings the mix of comedy, drama, romance, and music to its pleasant (albeit unlikely!) conclusion of socio-political reconciliation and an exultant group wedding. Leading the cast is the irresistible Filios, who fluently delivers Rosalind’s full range of emotions, as she transitions from the restrictions placed on a courtly lady to the liberation she feels in her guise as the young Ganymede—a gender-bending charade that not only protects her from potential harm, but also provides a proto-feminist device that allows her to speak her mind openly with intelligence and conviction, and to instruct her beloved Orlando (Jake Blouch) on how a man best woo a woman.
Kirk Wendell Brown, portraying the two estranged brother-Dukes, turns in a mature performance that fully underscores the gravitas of Shakespeare—even in his comedies—as does Frank X, whose masterful rendition of “All the world’s a stage” by the misanthropic Jaques is heartfelt and moving. His monologue offers a striking contrast to his unexpected carefree bursts of funny free-style dancing and hilarious silent mouthing of “What the f*&#?” to the audience.
J Hernandez provides all the tomfoolery of the court jester Touchstone (who meets his match in Audrey, played by Meghan Winch) with a combination of zany physical shtick and wry humor. Adam Altman (who also leads the singing) is convincingly mean and duplicitous as Oliver, the abusive brother to Blouch’s charming and love-stricken Orlando, and Chris Anthony lends solid support as the wrestler Charles. Among the most entertaining scenes is the well-executed comical match between Charles and Orlando (fight direction by J. Alex Cordaro) and the giddy encounters between Orlando and Rosalind, who gaze deeply into each other’s eyes, all dreamy and speechless.
The production’s design adheres to McMahon’s cross-temporal aesthetic, with an updated Gothic-inspired set (by Meghan Jones), in which the architectural colonettes of the palace become the trees of the forest, and dark formal apparel at the court (save for the ridiculously mismatched patterned clothing of the fool Touchstone!) that gives way to the boho/hipster flair of colorful plaids and flowing fabrics in the woods (costumes by Janus Stefanowicz). Composer Michael Hahn sets Shakespeare’s lyrics to an Elizabethan-meets-Grunge-style score, which takes note of the play’s changing moods and locales, and tellingly characterizes the antithetical personalities of Rosalind (Filios on viola) and Celia (Wolf on violin). If only the accomplished vocalist Filios—reigning Barrymore winner for best actress in a musical—-were given a solo or two!
[St. Stephen’s Theater, 10th & Ludlow Sts.] March 10-April 17, 2016; lanterntheater.org.