Theater troupes enjoy performing Shakespeare’s “As You Like It,” one of his most popular plays. It’s a romantic romp, and the lakeside setting at the Central Coast Shakespeare Festival is an ideal venue for this pastoral comedy.
The play is known for some of the Bard’s enduring quotes, and Rosalind, its heroine, is one of his strongest woman characters. The festival production’s directors, Cindy Totten and Zoe Saba, make the most of the comic elements, using some sight gags to take advantage of the play’s colorful characters and moments of physical comedy.
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 young 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. (Shakespeare’s lovers usually fall in love at first sight.) Orlando is also exiled to the forest, but there he believes Rosalind is a boy.
In the forest, Touchstone falls in love with the dimwitted goatherd Audrey, and the lovesick young shepherd Sylvius pursues the shepherdess Phebe, while Jaques, a jaded philosopher and observer, comments on love and life.
Jessica Boles is spunky and cute as Rosalind, and Kevin Patrick Lohman is charming and handsome as Orlando. Christina Fountain is good as Celia, sometimes surprised and frustrated at her cousin’s actions as Rosalind woos Orlando while disguised as a boy.
Jaques, a lord attending the banished duke, has the best speeches. Janet Stipicevich plays him with a manly swagger and a sometimes dour attitude. She gets to deliver the famous words, “All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players; they have their exits and their entrances, and one man in his time plays many parts.”
Jaques also has a memorable monologue about the “seven ages of man.” Stipicevich gives him a strong presence.
Touchstone the jester also has much to say about life and love, but it is more comic than cosmic. David Hance is excellent — likable and funny — especially as he pursues Audrey the goatherd, played by Erika Appel as a coarse country girl, always eating, and sometimes lifting her skirt to scratch her bottom. Jaques and Touchstone are well-drawn characters, and the actors give them strong personalities.
Tyler Lopez is sweetly pathetic as the shepherd Sylvius, pleading with Phebe for her love. Claire Harlan is haughty as Phebe, who spurns him — and falls for Ganymede, who is really Rosalind.
Robert Knowles is kindly as Duke Senior, and Elaine Fournier is properly stern as his brother Duke Frederick, who has banished him.There are some lively physical antics as Charles Hayek, as Duke Frederick’s wrestler, challenges Orlando to a match, which involves acrobatics and tumbling.
The Bard’s language comes across well in most cases, but a few of the actors have a tendency to speak too fast, as though reciting, rather than talking — a common problem with Shakespeare — but important in the outdoor setting with no sound system.
There are no set pieces, the company using the outdoor setting to suggest the forest. After dark, a bullfrog added a bit of ambience. This is a lively, traditional production, one of the Bard’s classics.