By William Shakespeare
Directed by Gary Griffin
At Chicago Shakespeare Theater
Optimistic romantic comedy shines on stage
“All the world’s a stage
And all the men and women merely players;
Featuring one of Shakespeare’s best loved heroines, Rosalind (Kate Fry in a most charmingly winning performance), As You Like It is a sure crowd pleasing pastoral romantic comedy. Director Gary Griffin has cast a full list of “A” list classical players. He and his creative team, especially Kevin Depinet (Scenic Design), Mara Blumenfeld (1820’s Era Costume Design) and Jenny Giering’s original music including English folk ballads, have created an atmosphere in the Forest of Arden conducive for sparking love interests. Griffin creates a world where courtiers, clowns, philosophers, and locals struggle to define their identities and discover love.
The result is a fun, breezy romp into romantic comedy peopled by empathetic characters each seeking power, love, and romance. Orlando ( the charming and vulnerable Matt Schwader doing his best work to date) is a lad enamored by the beauty of Rosalind. When he escapes the wrath of Duke Frederick (Matt DeCaro). Orlando and his aging servant Adam (the lovable Dennis Kelly) seek shelter in the Forest of Arden.
Meanwhile Rosalind and her best friend and cousin Celia (terrific work by Chaon Cross) – the daughter of the mean Duke Frederick, leave the Duke’s environment for the freedom of the Forest of Arden. Rosalind go in disguise as a man (Ganymede).
When she encounters Orlando in the Forest, the romantic games begin. Rosalind, also in love with Orlando, meets him as Ganymede and pretends to counsel him to cure him of being in love. Confused but moved by Ganymede’s powers of persuasion, Orlando still seeks his beloved Rosalind. The fun ensues.
Touchstone (fabulous work by Phillip James Brannon) is Rosalind and Celia’s companion and a clown who deliciously engages in fun and turns many a witticism. He also finds love in the Forest where Duke Senior (the commanding Kevin Gudahl) and his men rule with compassion and genuine friendliness. We hear a lovely English folk ballad deftly sung by Andrew Mueller’s Amiens and we laugh at the cynicism and melancholy of Jaques (nimble wordplay and comic timing by Ross Lehman), especially in his smart rendering of the famous “All the world’s a stage” speech.
The cast also features effective work from Jeff Parker as Oliver, Patrick Clear as Corin, a shepherd together with a fabulous comic turn from Elizabeth Ledo and Steve Haggard as two sort-of-in-love shepherds. Nathan Hosner as Charles, a wrestler, and Mark Richard as Dennis each add yeoman work to the production.
This tender and optimistic comedy is pure fun as it lightly yet effectively plays out the romantic adventures of the younger principals seeking love in a rustic setting. The pace is swift, the laughs abound, and the sparks fly as love surly is in the air lead by the confident and assured Rosalind. Each player questions who they are thus allowing them to find the love they seek. We smile and enjoy in the delights and mischief of the adventure. As a production, Griffin’s As You Like It is a wonderful audience adventure into romantic comedy. This is one of the finest comedies mounted at Chicago Shakespeare Theater in years! It is also a fine way to introduce The Bard to youngsters.
At Chicago Shakespeare Theater, Navy Pier, Chicago, IL, call 312-595-5600, www.chicagoshakes.com, tickets $44 – $75, running time is 2 hours, 40 minutes with intermission, through March 6, 2011