Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.
Also see Susan's review of Swept Away
Director Daryl Cloran adapted the play and originally directed it for the Bard on the Beach Shakespeare Festival in Vancouver, BC. The production is highly immersive, with audience seating on both sides of the broad proscenium stage, and packed with spectacle: while Shakespeare uses a wrestling match to dramatize the conflict between guileless Orlando (Jeff Irving) and his scheming brother Oliver (Matthew MacDonald-Bain), he never imagined it looking or sounding the way it does here.
The time is the swinging 1960s, first in a neon-lit city ruled by proper, ruthless Dame Frances (Jennifer Lines), then in the hippie-ish Forest of Arden where Frances' deposed sister, Dame Senior (also Lines), lives with a loose tribe of supporters including several musicians. Senior's daughter Rosalind (resolute Chelsea Rose) and her cousin, Frances' daughter Celia (Naomi Ngebulana), take on false identities and flee to Arden, where they become entangled in the lives of several other characters and, to their surprise, encounter Orlando again.
The Beatles songs interpolated by Cloran fit snugly into the lives of these characters and their unpredictable world, at first heavy on sweet, swooning love ballads (for two examples, "I Want to Hold Your Hand" and "Do You Want to Know a Secret") but also tailored to character. Jaques (Andrew Cownden), the dour philosopher among Dame Senior's followers, thoughtfully declaims "I Am the Walrus," while courtier and sometimes emcee Touchstone (Kayvon Khoshkam) and sturdy country wench Audrey (Emma Slipp) celebrate their love with "When I'm 64." One throughline is that the women always seem to be a step ahead of the men, whether as themselves or in disguise.
Rose is appealingly stalwart as a woman who has endured hardship and is ready to go after what she wants; Ngebulana, gentler in temperament and always supportive, deserves the (unexpected) happiness she finds. Irving, with his open face and straightforward manner, is an Orlando for everyone to love, except perhaps for his sneering older brother–but this is a Shakespearean comedy, so things will resolve themselves in unlikely ways. Lines is a delight in her day-and-night characters: Dame Frances wears a tailored purple suit and pillbox hat, while Dame Senior has gone full hippie with thick frizzy hair and tinted glasses.
Carmen Alatorre's costumes help the actors create the characterizations, from Rose's sleek three-piece suit when playing "Ganymede" to Khoshkam's gaudy striped suit, Cownden's existential black turtleneck, and the glittering wrestling costumes. Pam Johnson's scenic design and Gerald King's lighting design set the scene beautifully without cluttering the stage.
As You Like It runs through January 7, 2024, at the Shakespeare Theatre Company's Harman Hall, 610 F St. NW, Washington DC. For tickets and information, please call 202-547-1122 or 877-487-8849 or visit www.shakespearetheatre.org.
By William Shakespeare