So, this is love
A fun and lusty treatment of Shakespeare’s timeless comedy As You Like It
In the warm and breezy Forest of Bidwell, not to be confused with the Idyllic Forest of Arden, Shakespeare in the Park is currently presenting its second show of the season, As You Like It. Boasting an energetic and talented cast and the directorial talents of Joyce Henderson, it’s a highly entertaining and clever rendition. This production embraces the Bard’s language with lusty bravado, spicing the traditional story up with a few clever asides that locals will get a good chuckle from.
First produced in 1600, this play is known best for its gender-bending antics, bawdy humor and the “all the world’s a stage” speech, from Act II. The speech is delivered here with well-focused, fluent grace and contemplative ease by Shakespeare veteran Bruce Dillman, as Jaques, the “melancholy” attendant to the banished Duke Senior (Bill O’Hare), who resides in the forest with his band of merry men.
The plot follows the antics of a group of courtiers banished or driven to the forest for incurring the displeasure of Duke Frederick (also played by Bill O’Hare), father to Celia (Jocelyn Stringer), uncle to Rosalind (Kendra Chell) and enemy of the deceased father of quarreling brothers Orlando (Alex Boyles) and Oliver (Scott McKenzie). The nobles meet up with groups of shepherds and country lads and lasses, and of course everyone starts falling in love with everyone else, and jealousies and mistaken identities abound.
In the end everyone makes up, ‘fesses up, and four couples are married by Hymen (played with braying, warbling bluster by Davis Carlson). If the reconciliations are a little quick and convenient and the characters a little over the top, no one seems to mind much, because everyone involved is having a fabulous time, audience and cast alike.
The cast displayed the unity of old friends, and indeed many of them have worked together before. Henderson was fortunate to have some players who fit the shoes they were wearing quite nicely; in particular, Boyles as Orlando, who played the part with wide-eyed, handsome yet boyish jubilance. He has a fine singing voice, which he puts to good use in several lovely duets with Amiens, played by Paul Sandberg, whose strong tenor was a joy to hear—never striking a false chord. Both are performance majors at CSU Long Beach, and Sandberg is given credit for creating the songs that the two sing. A crowd favorite was a duet in which Orlando repeatedly declares his love for Rosalind, as Amiens laments the frigidly cold (yeah, right!), ugly forest they are both stuck in.
Also turning in excellent performances were Stringer, as the wholesome, pretty Celia/Aliena, sister-cousin to Rosalind/Ganymede (played with girlish glee and whole-hearted rambunctious rigor by Chell). Chell is simply enchanting, embracing the tomboyish alter ego, Ganymede, which she dons in the forest with as much sincerity and charm as she brings to the witty, love-struck Rosalind at court. The scenes with the two ladies and Touchstone (Eric Ricketts), the court clown who runs away to the forest with them, are hilarious.
The chemistry between Orlando and Ros/Ganymede is tangible, conjuring familiar images of the giddy joy that first love brings. Chell even manages to deliver one of Shakespeare’s classically droll lines with perfect aplomb: “Do you not know I am a woman?/ When I think, I must speak,” to the absolute delight of the audience.
Even players who had smaller parts, including Zoey Dillman as Phebe, Hannah Metzger as Audrey and Owen Carlson as the old servant Adam, managed to imbue their characters with individual, memorable nuance. I was especially amused by Carlson, who seemed to channel Yoda with his vocal inflection and hunching physicality—Boyles even looked a little Luke-like in one scene that the two shared.
Maybe the reason Shakespeare is so timeless is that, like the Star Wars movies, his works speak to all of us in a personal, archetypal way. Laughter and love are universal, and all the world really is a stage. We love to see ourselves reflected in the world around us, and we especially love to laugh—both of these very human desires are satisfied nicely, just As You Like It.