Shakespeare’s “As You Like It” gets a creative spin in the Cal Poly Theatre and Dance Department’s lively production. Adapted and directed by Josh Machamer, the pastoral comedy about banishment, love and disguise goes from a dark and deceptive royal court to the Forest of Arden, open, free and colorful, where everyone is ready for love.
This is one of the Bard’s false identity tales. Rosalind is the daughter of Duke Senior, who has been banished from the court by his younger brother, Duke Frederick. Duke Senior has fled to the Forest of Arden, taking some of his entourage with him.
At first Rosalind stays behind with her cousin and best friend, Celia, but when her uncle becomes angry and banishes her as well, she and Celia travel to the forest, with Celia dressed as a peasant woman and Rosalind disguised as Ganymede, her brother. They take Touchstone, the court jester, with them.
Just before the women leave, Orlando, a young man persecuted by his older brother, falls in love at first sight with Rosalind, and the feeling is mutual. Orlando, crazy in love, is also exiled to the forest, and there he meets Ganymede, (Rosalind as a young man) and agrees to be counseled by “him” to be cured of being in love. In the forest, Touchstone the jester falls in love with the dimwitted goatherd Audrey, and the lovesick young shepherd Sylvius pursues the reluctant shepherdess Phebe, who falls in love with Ganymede, while Jaques, a jaded philosopher and observer, comments on love and life.
In the early scenes in the court, the actors, in black costumes, wear strange masks which hide their faces. A wrestling match is performed behind a lighted screen like a shadow play, and the atmosphere is dark and gloomy as one character after another is threatened and banished.
As everyone arrives in Arden the light is brilliant on the open stage, with a lovely forest scene in the background. There the props are minimal, with the actors sometimes climbing and manipulating rolling ladders, which the director says lets the audience construct the scene in their own minds.
The audience also has to suspend reality a bit to believe that the pretty, feminine Rosalind, played by Katharine Epstein, can be seen as a boy by others in the forest, especially Orlando. Epstein doesn’t change anything besides her clothing, and some of the other characters do seem puzzled by her gender at first. When the play was written in the 1600s, boys and young men played the female roles, so Shakespeare’s disguised men and women morphed more easily from one gender to the other.
The play is populated by an array of characters, from an elderly servant to shepherds to dukes and lords. Devin O’Brien is good as Orlando, and Brigitte Losey is cute as cousin sidekick Celia. Most of the actors speak Shakespeare’s language well, but some, especially the women, do what so many neophytes to the style do — rush through their lines as though reciting.
The standout in the delivery of the Bard’s lines is Michael McCullough, well cast as the melancholy philosopher, Jaques. He has the most famous lines in the play, the monologue, “All the world’s a stage. …”
The humorous characters are well acted. Maddie Pomaro as Audrey and Sophie Cantor as Phebe get laughs with their body language and facial expressions. Their suitors, Aron Daw as Sylvius and Gage Greenspan as Touchstone, go all out in their comic roles and speak the language well. Jacob Corsaro takes on a rural Southern accent as the shepherd Corin, as he brings out a large stuffed animal that looks like a hybrid of some sort, with sheeplike skin, deerlike antlers and a long tail with a tassel on the end.
The ensemble sings original music in the style of the time, composed for the production by Phillip Valle. Tim Dugan is scenic designer, and the colorful costumes were designed by Thomas John Bernard.
While this production has innovative touches, it highlights the Bard’s traditional sense of humor and the positive attitude of his comedies: All’s well that ends well (oops, that’s another play).
IF YOU GO
"As You Like It"
8 p.m. today, Friday and Saturday; 2 p.m. Saturday
Spanos Theater, Cal Poly
$12 to $20
756-4849 or www.pacslo.org