On a balmy summer evening, no Shakespearean play is more pleasing in the hands of a capable, often brilliant cast guided by a savvy director (in the case of the Livermore Shakespeare Festival, Lisa A. Tromovich), than As You Like It. This cheerily familiar piece, filled as it is with bon mots and oft quoted passages, such as “The Seven Ages of Man” delivered by the dour, melancholy nobleman Jaques (Michael Wayne Rice), gets around to making fun of most of the major deadly sins – greed, envy, wrath, pride and no little amount of lust, as well as other human quirks like folly, stupidity and gob-smacked, instantaneous love. Plenty of grist there for the comedy mill.
The story of two young women, Rosalind (brilliant Maryssa Wanlass), dressed in male drag as a mustachioed youth, and peasant-clad Cecilia (vibrant, spontaneous Lillian Wouters), who are booted out of a dukedom under the threat of death and take refuge in the Forest of Arden, is well known. They encounter various forest denizens – another duke banished by his own brother, shepherds, fools, and most importantly, Orlando (charismatic Joseph Salazar commanding the stage like a king), who had, in the opening scenes, fallen head over heals in love with Rosalind, who reciprocated in kind. How they and three other unlikely couples find their true loves despite the bumps and twists of plot provides the show’s comic joy.
Played in the round at Livermore Shakespeare’s new venue on the grounds of the Wente Vineyards Estate Winery and Tasting Room, this production of As You Like It proves the old theatrical saw that all drama requires is “two planks and a passion.” On a raised hexagonal platform carpeted in AstroTurf, or something like it, and devoid of scenery except what can be carried on, the actors create it all, playing with tremendous theatrical intimacy, singling out members of the audience with a line or a look, sitting with them from time to time with no pretense of fourth wall realism. This is exuberant performance at its best.
There are many notables among the cast. Garbed in motley with a traditional jester’s cap, lithe, athletic Alan Littlehales makes a terrifically physical Touchstone, the bad Duke’s funnyman, who throws his lot in with the escaping girls. Playing his newfound love, Audrey, Amy Billroth-MacLurg is deliciously lusty and nominally slutty. Lindsey Marie Schmeltzer makes a fine, sharp-tongued shepherdess as the scornful Phoebe and Aaron Kitchin is endearingly pathetic as Sylvius, the swain who loves her. Sean Patrick Nill scores twice, first as the obsequious French courtier, Le Beau, and then the well-sung Ardenite, Amyens. And venerable William J. Wolak has a romp with the old guy roles of Adam, the servant, and Corin, the shepherd.
With no scenery, costuming is vital in establishing a sense of place and style. Barbara Murray eschews nailing down the show to a particular era or place, suiting up the players as befit their characters. Her design is an eye-filling delight.
You want to have a fine night in the open air savoring the delights of one of the Bard’s greatest comedies? Go see As You Like It playing through August 2 at Wente Vineyards Estate Winery and Tasting Room in Livermore.