Those summer nights
As You Like It
City Theatre celebrates the 20th anniversary of the Sacramento Shakespeare Festival in William Land Park by filling summer evenings with words from the Bard. The festival has become a Sacramento tradition: people packing picnics, actors scurrying along park paths, local ducks quacking in chorus and the inevitable helicopter overhead drowning out a line or two.
The gates of the William A. Carroll Amphitheatre open up two hours before showtime. You can bring low-back folding chairs for the front grass area, which is definitely more comfortable than the hard, backless benches. And make sure you bundle up! As soon as the sun goes down, the dark park gets downright nippy. It also helps to read a short synopsis of the play beforehand, especially if you bring kids along. The plots and characters can be confusing when layered with Elizabethan language.
The two alternating plays in this year’s festival take full advantage of the outdoor arena. As You Like It and A Midsummer Night’s Dream are both set in forests, so the trees, breezes and goose sneezes of Land Park all are appropriate accompaniment to the actors.
As You Like It, which opened the festival last weekend, is one of Shakespeare’s earliest works and has all his comedic trademarks: dueling dukes, banished brothers, mistaken identities, randy romances and a happy ending. Director Kim McCann places the action in 1740 and dresses the actors in handsome pre-Revolutionary garb.
Upon a simple two-tiered set, the play unfolds its two-tiered plot. We have a “right to the throne” story that’s quickly overshadowed by the star-crossed lovers’ romps. There are multiple courtships being pursued, though at center stage are Orlando (Nathan Fleshman) and Rosalind (Kathleen Saumure), who meet, are torn apart and meet again only to have Orlando woo Rosalind, who is in disguise as a man. It might be a bit unrealistic, but it’s great fun to watch, especially in the capable hands of the two talented leads. We also are treated to other quirky romances, a World Wrestling Entertainment-style wrestling match and a memorable “all the world’s a stage” soliloquy by John David Rambo.
Some of the lesser roles stumble a bit, and the leash-led Phebe is just an odd choice, but As You Like It stands as an enjoyable launch of the Sacramento Shakespeare Festival’s 20th-anniversary festivities.