Love, cross-dressing and banjos

As You Like It

“Are you ready for your solo?”

“Are you ready for your solo?”

Photo courtesy of the davis shakespeare ensemble

As You Like It, 8 p.m. Thursday, Friday, Saturday; 6:30 p.m. Sunday; $10-$15. UC Davis Arboretum Gazebo, 1 Garrod Drive in Davis; (530) 802-0998; Through June 30.

UC Davis Arboretum Gazebo

1 Garrod Dr.
Davis, CA 95616

(530) 752-4880

Rated 4.0

Shakespeare set his pastoral comedy As You Like It in the Forest of Arden, where exiles from the corrupt court enjoy rustic rural life (like Robin Hood and his Merry Men). The Davis Shakespeare Ensemble performs the play by night amid the lush greenery of the UC Davis Arboretum—a smart choice that advances this easy-going tale of blossoming love beneath sturdy trees.

Director Rob Salas takes a music-driven approach and makes extensive use of a four-person Appalachian-style band (banjo, mandolin, etc.). The original score by Richard Chowenhill is haunting, complementing the setting and the concept.

Hayley Palmer (who’s in the MFA acting program at UC Irvine) does very well as Rosalind, the female heroine who passes herself off as a young man (Ganymede), then tutors the guy she likes in the way of wooing. Rosalind is one of the most multifaceted female roles in Shakespeare’s comedies, and Palmer taps into every emotion, including frustration, fear and head-over-heels elation.

Also notable is Matthew Edwards, a Davis native recently returned after some years as a professional actor in New York. Edwards stands out as the “melancholy” Jacques; his take on the character involves manic energy—there’s even some dancing. Many of the other actors are locals previously seen in the Sacramento Shakespeare Festival, the Sacramento Theatre Company and others.

The Davis Shakespeare Ensemble is a young and ambitious company on the rise. Its intelligent, well-planned productions (while small) keep getting better and better, with upgrades visible in each new show. This is a local outfit to watch.