As You Like It
According to Harold Bloom, "As You Like It" is the masterpiece of all Shakespearean comedies and Rosalind is one of the most perfect of Shakespeare’s heroines. She is the most gifted and the most human of his characters, on a par with and even surpassing Hamlet and Lear in complexity.
Bloom, an acknowledged Shakespeare authority, and old school to the max (can you spell misogynist?) has no patience for a lesbian feminist interpretation of her transvestite character. His admiration is straightforward and harks to a golden age when Rosalind was played to perfection without the "horrors" of sexual politics. Well, the Queen’s Company will have none of this high falutin’ lit crit. "As You Like It" is a rare chance for them to bend gender into a pretzel.
The Queen’s Company director, Rebecca Patterson, sports a sly wit with her latest mash-up of pop music and Elizabethan verse. "As You Like It" is performed by her all-female troupe (in bare feet, no less.)
In the idyllic forest of Arden the actresses play boys. But they also play girls who impersonate boys. A few of the boys are youthful swains devoted to giddy transports of romantic love. One senses the cast’s precision in language and fidelity to the themes evidence their desire to be taken seriously but they can’t help themselves from expressing an anarchic spirit that lurks underneath. The result is a delightful queer screwball comedy that moves you.
The actors mine the Bard’s vein of wit for all its gold but the majority of the belly laughs originates in Patterson’s imaginative staging, borrowing from musical comedy conventions, to advance the characters emotional state in song. These occur during extended scene changes.
This reviewer’s favorite was that of the scene in which Oliver, newly torn from his station and banished, first gazes on Celia across the forest floor. Absurdly, the strains of the theme from "Dirty Dancing" come up. The two characters strike a pose and "fake mambo" while Rosalind/Ganymede tries to stop the music. The duo even attempt the climactic jeté to dramatize their dizzying leap into romantic infatuation.
There was something thrilling in this juxtaposition of high and low brow, communicating the giddiness of love at first sight. For a moment one forgets the Queen’s Company’s conceit and is beguiled by the lovers’ looniness. This kind of show stopping (and anachronistic) pop song is the Queen’s Company’s forte.
"As You Like It" is Rosalind’s play, but this production foregrounds Orlando. The play begins with Virginia Beata’s entrance as Orlando, the banished son and nature boy who has developed a prowess as a wrestler. Beata is very good in trouser roles. In this, she is convincing as a boy but not as a wrestler. This reviewer had to re-read the play to discover that it’s Orlando’s métier -- his only accomplishment.
In this first scene he puts his older brother in a headlock and asks him why he has deprived him of the means for an education in courtly manners. His brother Oliver admits his neglect but denies the younger brother’s claim. To best his brother physically is his only means to hold the upper hand. Orlando’s not the most interesting of characters but one doesn’t mind. Virginia Beata plays him with the kind of befuddled goofiness of a Judd Apatow hero looking for a strong chick to school him.
Elizabeth Ahrens’ Rosalind, while technically adept, does not quite convince in her male disguise. But the other characters in the play believe her masquerade and that is the requisite for the play to work.
Annie Paul as Celia and Sarah Hankins’ Oliver were quite credible as lovestruck fools. Natalie Lebest as the fools Touchstone and Jacques, the evil and good Dukes by Julie Campanelli all contribute forceful performances. The net effect is a spirited and lively ensemble effort.
The set, by Rohit Kapoor, is very simple. Greens and russet wash the stage to simulate a forest floor. The backdrop is of a silhouette of a large tree against a sky that seemed neither night nor day. At first glance it appears to be the outline of a huge apple. It’s clear the set is more utilitarian than decorative, mostly providing wings for the entrances and exits.
The lighting and sound served (Isabella Bird, Ien DeNio) the minimal set design. Patterson’s productions are generally unfussy, which keeps the focus on the dialogue and the characters. Her choice to set the action in a South American banana republic post-revolution didn’t add much to ambiance except for the interesting costumes (Anna Lacavita).
The banished inhabitants of the forest were dressed like revolutionary guerillas and the Duke’s entourage at court like the minions of a druglord/dictator. It was an opportunity for one of the actors to sport ’60s bell- bottoms, an awesome ’stache and mirror aviators with a carbine slung over her shoulder.