Georgia Shakespeare has proven that you can take the comedy As You Like It out of the Forest of Arden, as long as you don't, in effect, take the Forest of Arden out of As You Like It.
The company frequently specializes in "concept" stagings of classic texts by taking works from the canon and putting them into surprising settings to bring out key themes, find contemporary parallels and forge stronger connections to the audience. In 2001, the company reimagined As You Like It's Forest of Arden as the dusty wilderness of the Old West. Giving the comedy a Western flavor inspired some clever touches, such as the mournful campfire harmonica that accompanied the melancholy Jacques' classic "All the world's a stage" speech. That production, however, points out the occupational hazard of such shows: Sometimes you remember the concept better than the actual play.
Georgia Shakespeare's new staging of As You Like It, directed by Karen Robinson, features a promising perspective. Shakespeare makes a sharp contrast between the conniving court of evil Duke Frederick (Brad Sherrill, in his 20th season at the festival) and Arden's peaceable woodland. Robinson offers a lively "Summer of Love" vision of the play, with courtiers wearing "Establishment" business suits while the Swinging '60s forest residents wear Carnaby Street fashions as well as tie-dyed hippie gear, like they're taking a shortcut to Max Yasgur's farm for Woodstock.
As You Like It's romantic complications involve Rosalind (Park Krausen), daughter of the "good" Duke Senior (Hudson Adams), exiled to the forest. When Rosalind falls from favor with Duke Frederick, she flees to the forest with the Duke's daughter Celia (Susannah Millonzi). For their protection in the wild, she disguises herself as a young man called Ganymede, only to encounter stalwart young Orlando (Daniel May), with whom she falls in love. In male drag, Krausen looks a little like she's in disguise as the Monkees' Peter Tork.
Robinson generally draws charming, bloom-of-youth performances from the cast, particularly Brynn Tucker as a shepherdess named Phoebe, who falls in love with Ganymede, unaware of her true gender. Joe Knezevich, however, pushes Jacques' intellectual pessimism into an overdone show of desperation in "All the world's a stage."
Robinson doesn't really crack the problem of the play's strange pace. It begins with courtly intrigue, including a wrestling match, and ends with the elegant resolution of romantic mistaken identity. In between, the story line slows down, lacking the zippy incidents of Twelfth Night and A Midsummer Night's Dream, and Robinson's production sags in the middle.
The production's 1960s' style particularly pays off with the play's numerous songs, arranged here to evoke the acoustic energy of singer/songwriters like Bob Dylan (with some Indian riffs along the lines of Ravi Shankar as the play goes along). At times, however, the concept gets in the way. Ganymede gives Orlando lessons in overcoming his love for Rosalind to reveal the depths of his feelings for her, but given the 1960s associations of sexual liberation, Rosalind's disguise seems particularly unnecessary.
Kat Conley's lovely set contains some odd touches, which complicate a visual scheme that could have been perfectly simple. Honey-colored light and hexagonal patterns on tall partitions dominate the court scenes, making it look like the inside of a beehive. The forest isn't a green wonderland but a place of spindly, curlicued trees that resemble the designs from a Tim Burton film. The final wedding scene, with flowing pastel fabrics, further emphasizes Indian motifs, reminiscent of the Beatles' Eastern phase when they hung out with gurus. Despite the splendid creativity of Georgia Shakespeare's As You Like It, by the end, the concept feels like a little too much of a good thing.
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