There are two sure things about the latest offering from Chesapeake Shakespeare Company (CSC): “As You Like It” is a total delight and it is an excellent starting place for anyone shy about Shakespeare. Jump in, you’ll love it. Under director Ian Gallanar’s deft hand and the actors’ impeccable comedic timing, the meaning of each line is so well construed and conveyed that it is easy to forget you’re listening to Old English in a 400-year-old play.
Under director Ian Gallanar’s deft hand and the actors’ impeccable comedic timing, the meaning of each line is so well construed and conveyed that it is easy to forget you’re listening to Old English in a 400-year-old play…funny and fast-paced…unique and dynamic…
The production does not start as a comedy. Bad things happen to each of the principle characters, starting with the funeral of Orlando’s father and his subsequent disinheritance at the hands of his oldest brother. Orlando, played by Gabriel Alejandro, is fiery, emotional, and angry. He is so at odds with his brother, Oliver (Ethan Larsen), that Oliver arranges a match for his brother with an accomplished wrestler hoping for his brother’s demise.
Meanwhile, the kingdom is ruled by the heavy hand of a strongman, Duke Frederick (Gregory Burgess), who usurped the kingdom by exiling his brother to The Arden Forest. The exiled Duke’s daughter, Rosalind (Lauren Davis), has avoided her father’s fate by the grace of her friendship with Celia (Surasree Das), Duke Frederick’s only daughter.
After Orlando manages to vanquish the wrestler, Duke Frederick is angry that Rosalind preferred Orlando in the match and gives her ten days to get out of town. Celia decides she can’t live without her dear friend and leaves with Rosalind. For safety reasons, Rosalind disguises herself as a young man as they flee—amd that is only the first act.
The wrestling match is where the chaos and comedy begin and the play goes off the rails. Charles, the wrestler, appears for the match as a ridiculous luchador, complete with silver mask. Jordan Brown, as Charles, has all the arrogance and swagger needed to deserve his defeat. Rosalind and Orlando are smitten with each other on first sight after the match, but stumble through their first encounter is the sweetest and most relatable way.
The rest of the play follows Rosalind, Celia, Orlando and his servant, a court jester, the exiled Duke, and a great cast of oddball shepherds and peasants who find themselves roaming the magical Arden forest. Memorable moments include a life-sized sheep puppet who wrestles with its owner because it doesn’t want to climb the steps to the stage, and Touchstone (Dylan Arredondo), the court jester who deters a rival by bouncing him off the stage with his belly.
Rosalind and Orlando, strong and opinionated when not together, are tongue-tied and goofy whenever they meet. The shepherdess, Phebe (Lizzi Albert), is great as an insistent and single-minded suitor of Rosalind as a man. Phebe’s suitor, Silvius (Jordan Brown, again), is blockheaded and terrifically soppy over a woman who doesn’t want him. Rosalind’s friend and cousin, Celia, is delightful as she provides comic relief.
The play is set in the 1940s, somewhere probably France, but in this multicultural production, the actual space and place are not well defined. Orlando goes into Spanish in several scenes and French and Indian cultures are also represented. Although the costumes in the first act (designed by Kristina Lambdin) are drab and vaguely Eastern European, the Arden Forest finds each character beautifully decked out in colorful gypsy/Greek/Indian garb. The ending scene is a party mix of line dancing, disco, and a Bollywood production.
Projections, designed by Mark Williams, are a large part of setting mood and place in this production. Initially, when the usurping duke speaks, his face is repeatedly enlarged and projected over the plain, cement building. As he speaks, he is menacingly larger than life. Later, the projections of the forest give a calmer, greener, trippier vibe, and the supreme leader appears again—reformed as an all-powerful, nature god.
The time flies by in this funny and fast-paced production. Chesapeake Shakespeare Company’s production of “As You Like It” is unique and dynamic. This talented cast thoroughly hits the mark for a great evening of theatre.
Running Time: Two hours and 20 minutes with one 15-minute intermission.
“As You Like It” runs through October 22, 2023 at Chesapeake Shakespeare Company, 7 South Calvert Street, Baltimore, MD 21202. For more information and tickets, go online or call the Box Office at 410-244-8570.