In Review: ‘As You Like It’ brings love to the festival stage
By Rachelle Hughes
Iron County Today
Love is in the air at the Utah Shakespeare Festival’s 2017 season.
Shakespeare’s “As You Like It” opened the Festival’s 56th season last Thursday with the first glimpse of the many guises of love and romance to be seen in five of this season’s plays.
Tensions are running high at Duke Frederick’s court, as this play opens to two noble brothers fighting over inheritance and lack of fraternal love. Orlando (Jeb Burris) is demanding his inheritance, education and recognition from his older brother Oliver (Geoffrey Kent), who basically hates his youngest brother. Oliver is scheming for a way to get rid of his younger brother and sly-talking manipulator that he is, Oliver manages to convince Charles the wrestler that is slated to wrestle his brother the next day that a broken neck would be a service to him. Meanwhile Rosalind (Cassandra Bissell) is mourning the absence of her father, Duke Senior (John G. Preston) exiled from court to the Forest of Arden by his younger brother Duke Frederick (also played by John G. Preston)..
Rosalind and her cousin Celia, daughter of Duke Frederick, try to talk the rash Orlando out of fighting Charles the wrestler. When Orlando surprisingly beats Charles, Rosalind and Orlando start to fall in love. However Duke Frederick is not done banishing his family and banishes his niece Rosalind from his court. Loyalty and love moves her cousin Celia (Susanna Florence) to leave in the night with the court jester Touchstone and Rosalind dressed as a boy to look for Rosalind’s father in the Forest of Arden. Meanwhile, Oliver is still scheming to kill his brother and so Orlando and his kind and elderly servant Adam (Fred Adams) flee the court and end up in the Forest of Arden. Orlando and Adam are welcomed by Duke Senior and his Robin Hoodesque court in the woods and Orlando begins to write love poems to Rosalind that he posts all over the trees and bushes in the forest.
Rosalind and Celia and Touchstone find the love notes and discover that Orlando is in the forest. Rosalind, giddy with delight, decides to purchase a cottage in the forest and poses as a country landowner Ganymede and her equally titled cousin poses as a country girl . Rosalind stays in her guise as a boy and teaches Orlando how he should woo Rosalind should he ever see her again. What ensues is pure witty entertainment.
“Do you not know I am a woman? When I think, I must speak.” Rosalind reminds her cousin Celia at one point in the play. As You Like It, like many of the Festival’s 2017 season plays, features strong female leads, but perhaps Rosalind is one of my favorites thus far and her cousin Celia is a close second. Rosalind and Celia portray two independent women with layers of personality. They play their characters with all the complexity that is woman. Florence’s Celia is saucy and world-wise and loyal while Bissell plays a Rosalind that can be giddy and lovestruck one moment but determined and headstrong and clever the next. Neither is afraid to take their destiny into their own hands.
Jeb Burris is quickly becoming one of my favorite actors this season and his Orlando is utterly convincing as a young man whose heart is always in the right place even when he is forlorn. His relationship with Adam played by Festival Founder, Fred Adams is endearing. It was a delight to see Adams on stage as a kind and thoughtful servant. In many ways the role mirrors his love and passion and service for the Festival over the years. As artistic director Brian Vaughn said in his opening remarks before the play, “it is evocative that Fred is playing the part of a servant.”
This play features two “fools” or jesters. One is the melancholy gentleman Jaques played by Michael Elich and the other is Touchstone (Jonathan Haugen) is more of the designated wise clown. Jaques haunts the pastoral court and is moved by the passion of poetry and song and Touchstone takes his role seriously to bring cheer to his two female masters, Rosalind and Celia. I loved his performance as one of Shakespeare’s fools as his humor was restrained rather than foolish. Haugen was able to turn Shakespeare’s verse into mannerisms and inflection that could have easily been transferred to a modern day comedy club.
Something must be said of costume designer Lauren T. Roarks designs for this play. They were beautifully textural. Rosalind’s pastoral white and blue embroidered vest was envy worthy and the women’s wedding dresses were stunning. The men were not dressed badly either, not even in the countryside.
In the end, As You Like it was an entertaining play set in the idyllic countryside. Shakespeare portrays some of the best sides of love in this play full of the sharing of wit and love between family, lovers, servant and master.
On a sidenote: Although this play contains Shakespeare’s usual innuendo, it is generally appropriate for all ages.
Tickets can be purchased at bard.org or by calling the Utah Shakespeare Festival box office at 800-PLAYTIX. As You Like It will play through Sept. 7.