As You Like It
It's a rather busy conceit, as one can imagine, and has little to do with the love story between the banished princess Rosalind (Francesca Faridany) and the mistreated courtier Orlando (John Behlmann). Still, it's fun for an audience to watch, wondering who will turn up next in what guise borrowed from American history as viewed through the prism of old movies. Derek McLane's scenic design roams from a Southern plantation to the Southwestern vistas of John Ford westerns, and musical theater composer Michael John LaChiusa matches him with lovely background music and songs in a range of styles.
Aitken sets up the "movie" concept at the beginning: a flickering, silent re-enactment of the night Rosalind's father, Duke Senior (Mark Capri), was deposed by agents of his brother Frederick (also Capri). Duke Frederick's court is dark, forbidding, and Puritanical in the literal sense, with costumes by Martin Pakledinaz that suggest The Crucible.
Then Rosalind and her cousin and confidante, Celia (Miriam Silverman), flee to the Forest of Arden where Duke Senior lives with his followersand the world shifts into color. The setting isn't Oz, although that might have been a tempting choice for Aitken and her designers; the duke's court is in Valley Forge just before the American Revolution, where the natives coexist peaceably with the nobles. (This is the Hollywood version of the past, remember.)
Rosalind, disguised as a man, and Celia settle into rustic domesticity. Orlando, who has escaped to Arden because his brother Oliver (Barnaby Carpenter) wants to kill him, vents his love for Rosalind by scattering love poems throughout the forest. Rosalind takes advantage of her false identity to advise Orlando on the ways of love. Several other characters also stumble into love, including the jester Touchstone (Floyd King), who finds his match in a lively wench named Audrey (Beth Glover).
Sometimes the production gets too clever for its own good. Recognizable costumes from iconic films start turning up. One of the shepherds turns into a suave nightclub singer. Cynical Jaques (Andrew Long), who finds more bitter humor than melancholy in this version, appears to channel Mark Twain at one point. And who invited Mae West and Groucho Marx to the party? But don't think too hard and it's entertaining.
Shakespeare Theatre Company