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Philadelphia by Tim Dunleavy

As You Like It
Quintessence Theatre Group


Carlo Campbell, Ryan Walter, Sean Close, and
Lee Cortopassi

As You Like It marks the third time in five seasons that Germantown's Quintessence Theatre Group has revived the tradition of casting Shakespeare's plays the way they were cast in Shakespeare's day—that is, with men playing all the parts. If you're going to bring back this style of performing, As You Like It, in which the heroine Rosalind disguises herself as a boy in order to woo her beau, would seem to be a perfect play to choose. The result isn't perfect, but its exuberant and versatile cast goes a long way toward making it enjoyable.

For a comedy with cross-dressing, Quintessence's As You Like It is surprisingly subdued at times. Rosalind dominates the show, and Alexander Harvey plays her with a light, sensitive touch; it's a lovely performance. If it's camp you're after, stick with Ashton Carter's Phoebe and Ryan Walter's Audrey—these actors are here to be outrageous, and they definitely rise to the occasion. But it's not just the "women" who make strong impressions. Alan Brincks gives the hero Orlando the right noble mien, while Paul Hebron plays Duke Fredrick with the suave ruthlessness of a James Bond villain. (Hebron also plays the "good" Duke Senior, and does so with an engaging openness.) And Carlo Campbell plays the wrestler Charles with comically wide eyes; the way he jabs the air at every moment is one of the many nice little touches that director Alexander Burns has added. (Burns also designed the scaffolding that fills in ably for the Forest of Arden.) Ian Rose contributed the exciting fight choreography.

While the all-male tradition is revived pretty successfully here, another tradition from Shakespeare's day doesn't fare nearly as well: instead of staging the play with one intermission, Burns breaks the play into five acts, the way it's split up on the page. Sean Close, who plays the jester Touchstone, appears at each of the intervals to do seemingly improvised comedy and sing ironic takes on pop songs, sometimes with the help of other cast members. Close is a funny guy, but once you've seen him do his shtick in the first interval, you pretty much know how the other three intervals will go. Worse, these skits always seem to come just when the story is getting interesting. Breaking up the play this way makes the production too choppy and disrupts the story's flow. As a result, while this As You Like It is well done, it never quite soars the way it should. Only Harvey's Rosalind is able to cut through the clutter and make a strong emotional connection.

The play ends with the cast performing a traditional English Morris dance, a routine that Quintessence has used in far too many of its production. What once was a charming novelty has become an exasperating crutch.

As You Like It runs through November 8, 2014, and is presented (in repertory with Richard II) by Quintessence Theatre Group at Sedgwick Theater, 7137 Germantown Ave. Ticket prices are $27 - $34, with discounts available for students and seniors, and are available online at www.QuintessenceTheatre.org, or by visiting the box office.


Photo: Shawn May


-- Tim Dunleavy



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