Actor’s Shakespeare Project in Medford, Mass. continued its 10th Anniversary Season with a performance of “As You Like It” (1603), perhaps one of Shakespeare’s most well-known comedies. The play follows the love story of Rosalind (Brooke Hardman), the daughter of an usurped duke, and Orlando (Jesse Hinson), a young man cheated out of his father’s fortune by his calculating brother. When Rosalind is exiled by her uncle, she disguises herself as a man named Ganymede and flees to the Forest of Arden with her cousin, Celia (Mara Sidmore), and the court jester, Touchstone (Paula Plum). As Ganymede, Rosalind tells Orlando she can cure him of his lovesickness and tutor him in the ways of love. Here, the story unfolds amidst the usual quips and tomfoolery that characterize a Shakespearean comedy, ending with song and dance in a quadruple wedding.
The performance starts slowly. ASP mostly plays the lines straight, but many interpretations of Shakespeare’s scenes seem darker than intended for a comedy. There are two excellently executed fight scenes in the first act, for example, but they seem out of place and almost too intense for what the play promises. The humor in the first act is almost nonexistent, with the only chuckle-worthy lines coming from the bubbly interactions between Rosalind and her cousin and companion, Celia. Their on-stage chemistry is a good balance between thoughtful and theatrical, both entertaining the audience and revealing the close relationship between the characters. While the conversations between Orlando and his brother Oliver (Johnnie McQuarley) are also engaging, most of the first act is carried by Rosalind, Orlando and Celia’s performances.
Many of the actors deliver their lines in the classic Shakespearean fashion. Unfortunately, this elevated style feels forced and awkward. The show is also double-cast for many roles, and multiple actors seem better suited for one of their parts than the other. This double casting also sometimes makes the entrance of new characters confusing (though it undoubtedly adds to the comedy). Furthermore, some of the male characters, like Touchstone, are played by female actresses, which changes the tone and the nature of some of the humor in the play.
Thankfully, in the second act, the show improves considerably. We get to see more of Rosalind as Ganymede interacting with Orlando, and the two develop superb stage chemistry, engaging in flirtatious banter. Hardman’s performance as Rosalind is also above average; she does a thoughtful and thorough job of fleshing out one of Shakespeare’s few three-dimensional female characters.
The set is also worth mentioning. The stage uses mirrors to play with light and shadow in a wonderfully whimsical way that lightens the tone of the show. This staging also enhances the confusion that crop ups in the second act. While the set remains simple, the colors, mirrors, small stage and careful angling are used in a way that both is visually appealing and makes sense in the context of the story.
With all of these changes, the play becomes what we expect of a comedy. Light, witty and engaging, “As You Like It” is as much an escape for the audience as the Forest of Arden is for the characters. By the time Touchstone delivers Shakespeare’s famous line, “All the world’s a stage, and the men and women merely players,” the audience truly believes it.
Ultimately, the play’s second half makes up for a slow first act and concludes a charming, entertaining comedy. Though it has its slow points, ASP’s interpretation is certainly worth a watch.