No Shakespeareare play is more pleasing, in the hands of a capable, brilliant cast guided by a savvy director (Rob Clare), 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 Jacques (splendid James Sutorius), 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 (Sally Hughes), dressed in male drag, and peasant-clad Celia (Desiree Mee Jung), who are booted out of a dukedom under the threat of death by Celia’s Father, Duke Frederick (Brian Abraham), and take refuge in the Forest of Arden, is well known. They encounter various forest denizens – the noble Duke Senior (Bernard K. Addison) banished by his own brother Frederick, shepherds, fools, and most importantly, Orlando (Matthew Gallenstein), 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.
The visual style of the Antaeus production is modern with some throw back touches. The unit set by François-Pierre Couture, with lighting by Leigh Allen, is elegant in its simplicity. Columns, screens and arches with open filigreed capitols can suggest a court or a forest. The elegantly painted floor looks like the finest marble. Costumes by A. Jeffrey Schoenberg are modern with flourishes that are out of time. They have some common thematic elements that give the impression of uniform nobility in the bad Duke’s court, while the costumes of the good duke’s forest band have an elegant shabbiness to them, especially the fine, woven cloak of the duke himself, which adds to Mr. Addison’s impressive, amiable, dignity.
There are many notables among the sterling cast. Dressed in pants, vest, and scarf, that extraordinary ball of energy, JD Cullum, makes a terrifically physical Touchstone, the bad Duke’s funnyman, who throws his lot in with the escaping girls. Much of the play is presentational, with the actors expounding directly to the audience. Cullum takes it a step further cueing the booth for sound and lights as if he were a game show host. With his newfound love, Audrey, a deliciously lusty and nominally slutty Karen Malina White, the two pull a couple of audience members from the front row to come on up and dance with them.
Anna Lamadrid makes a fine, sharp-tongued shepherdess as the scornful Phoebe and Paul Culos is endearingly pathetic as Sylvius, the swain who loves her. With guitar or mandolin in hand, John Bobek as Amiens, with Todd Waring harmonizing, sings countrified versions of the show’s famous songs “Blow, Blow, Thou Winter Wind” and “It Was a Lover and His Lass.”
By tradition, Antaeus Theatre Company runs a show with two casts, and sometimes a third cast that mixes the two. The show reviewed here is performed by The Peascods (the cast names are always pulled from the script), which alternates with The Acorns. As You Like It runs through September 10 at the Kiki & David Grindler Performing Arts Center, 110 East Broadway in Glendale.