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Minneapolis by Elizabeth Weir

Guthrie's As You Like It
is very much as you like - but for its ending

As You Like It
Ryan Michelle Bathe and
Bianca Amato

Shakespeare packs As You Like It with poetry, wit as fleet as quicksilver, strong characters and a delectable flirtation, when a dynamic young woman, disguised as a youth, woos the man she loves. Guthrie artistic director Joe Dowling conjures enchantment in the forest of Arden with a fine cast and splendid production values. He then sabotages the woodland magic he has so ably wrought with a cliché, a glitzy Broadway-style ending.

Dowling sets As You Like It in an undefined place in the 1960s, and it serves the play well. The story pits oppression at court against a counter-culture of openness and love in a simple life.

Rosalind is tolerated at the court of her uncle, Duke Frederick, to keep Celia, his only child, company. Frederick usurped Rosalind's father's dukedom and banished him. Duke Senior took refuge in the forest of Arden. In a parallel story, Oliver controls his younger brother Orlando, denying him education and income. Frederick forces Rosalind to flee, and feisty Celia goes with her. For safety, Rosalind assumes the attire of a man, and they trek to the forest. Duke Frederick and Oliver connive to kill Orlando and he, too, flees to Arden, where irrepressible love, satire, philosophy and song rule.

Estimable Bianca Amato plays Rosalind. At the court of Duke Frederick, she's careful and reserved, though her personality flickers bright in the bedroom scene with Celia. Once Rosalind assumes the name of Ganymede and enters the forest of Arden, Amato makes Rosalind her own. She strides and swings her shoulders, thumbs in pocket, confident as a bloke. Alone for Celia and the audience to see are the knowing looks and sheer glee of deception. This young woman is having the time of her life in the freedom of male disguise and the power it affords her to woo and to fall deeper in love with the susceptible Orlando.

Celia might be Rosalind's second fiddle in the plot, but pretty Ryan Michelle Bathe steeps Celia in personality. She, too, is loving the joke as she takes the false name of Aliena, Ganymede's supposed sister. When they speak of men, the two women's bottom-swaying body language is saucy in a very modern way. Drew Cortese's attractive Orlando is an open, pleasing fellow, quick-witted and well set to fall in love.

Oliver and Duke Frederick arrange for Orlando to fight with a wrestler who is known for smashing his opponents. With a mane of red hair, Ross David Crutchlow plays the meaty fighter Charles (among other roles) as a loud, show-off baddie, a heel straight out of the World Wrestling Federation. Charles swaggers, smashes a barrel with his fist and, at first, gets the upper hand, while wrestling Orlando in a match hilariously choreographed by Peter Moore.

This cast is deep. Stephen Pelinski convinces as the paranoid and violent Duke Frederick and as his brother, gentle Duke Senior. Jim Lichtscheidl plays the Fool, Touchstone, a witty, detached satirist, who none-the-less falls in country love with Audrey, played by natural comic Sarah Agnew. Richard S. Iglewski is the melancholic philosopher Jaques. He brings alive the "Seven ages of man" and the "lie seven-times removed" speeches but, otherwise, his Jaques lacks force. In cameos as the foppish Le Beau and a pot-happy Vicar, Kris L. Nelson courts laughter. Virginia S. Burke, Wayne A. Evanson, Santino Fontana, Nathaniel Fuller, Michael Booth and Mathew Amendt fill out the strong cast.

James Noone designed large, stylistic turntable sets, and the winter and spring woodland scenes are nothing short of gorgeous. Much the same goes for Helen Q. Huang's costumes that come straight out of the '60s. In the court scenes, the costume references still bear the stiffness of the late '50s but, in Touchstone's wild motley, the '60s are in full bloom.

As You Like It boasts more songs than most Shakespeare plays, and Dowling commissioned Mel Marvin to write music that belongs to the era. To Anita Ruth's off-stage musicians, singers Dieter Bierbrauer and Crutchlow perform sixties-style songs, and Carena Crowell belts out a Motown number at the raffish close.

This As You Like It is well worth seeing, but if you want to hang on to the play's lingering sense of magic and avoid the tinsel-haloed angels and Broadway bash, stuff your ears and close your eyes for the ending.

As You Like It March 12 - April 17, 2005. Tuesdays - Saturdays 7:30 p.m. Sundays 7:00 p.m. See web site for matinees. Tickets $14 - $49. Guthrie Theater, 725, Vineland Place, Minneapolis. Call 612-377-2224 or www.guthrietheater.org.


Photo: Michal Daniel, 2005


- Elizabeth Weir



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