Shakespeare's comedy, As You Like It, could very well have been called Something for Everyone, as it truly has something to offer any and all tastes. Written around 1600 between his history plays and tragedies, it is an amalgamation of every stock device in the Shakespearean repertoire: nobility in disguise, banished dukes, philosophical clowns and clowning philosophers, songs, masques, gods and of course, cross dressing heroines. Throw in a wrestling match out of WWF, and you have a show with broad spectrum appeal.
Directed by The Seattle Repertory Theatre's artistic director Sharon Ott, As You Like It manages the near impossible: keeping the play in its original Elizabethan setting while making it accessible and contemporary in feel. The show has been slightly streamlined and is played at a breakneck pace, clocking in at just under three hours in length. Sharon has done an excellent job of adding asides, takes and physical commentaries which help to translate and clarify some of the moments of the show whose meaning has been lost through time, and has done so without being untrue to the show itself. She, along with scenic designer Kate Edmunds and lighting designer Nancy Schertler, have created a rich scenic landscape of shadows and trees, with slight differences and shifts designating the changing landscapes and seasons.
The cast is uniformly excellent, and the vast majority manage to create credible and fully fleshed characters, usually managing to stand up to the scene stealing antics of a delightful Jeff Steitzer as a flaming Bozo-haired Touchstone and Laurence Ballard's deliciously moribund Jaques. Among the standouts is Leslie Law as Touchstone's paramour and partner in bedevilry, Audrey. Julie Briskman Hall gave an incredibly multi-shaded performance as Celia, the cousin of Rosalind, bringing life to a part that is usually forgettable and overshadowed by the antics of the characters around her. As Rosalind, the girl pretending to be a man sometimes pretending to be a woman (thus giving Victor/Victoria a run for its money), Lise Bruneau was absolute perfection, being believable as both genders, without resorting to obvious stereotypes or mannerisms. Rosalind is the backbone of the show, and this production's is of titanium.
The only flaw I found in the show is minor, and probably is from my viewing the show with 21st Century eyes. William Mark Hulings is winning as Orlando and has a great flair for the verse. But he was a touch too puppydog-ish for my tastes, loping from scene to scene without any introspection. Thus, the scene in which Orlando, who has been persuaded by Rosalind (in the guise of Ganymede) to woo 'him' as if 'he' were Rosalind, rang false. The scene ends with Rosalind/Ganymede giving Orlando a lusty kiss, at which Orlando blinked nary an eyelash. I could not help but think that if a man pining away for his female love was given the most intense kiss of the play by another 'man,' at least a moment of "what the heck is going on here???" would occur, rather than simply smiling and bounding off into the forest.
But all in all, the show is absolutely delightful. It was a relief to see a production that trusts the material to work 'as is,' without forcing it to meet the strictures of a director's 'concept.'
As You Like It runs at the Seattle Repertory Theatre through May 25th. For ticket information call (206) 443-2222 or visit their website, www.seattlerep.org.
Down the hall, at the Rep's smaller Leo K. space, something completely different is happening. The theater is being haunted by the ghosts of a four man singing group that was tragically cut down not quite in its prime by a horrific car accident in 1964 (involving a bus of parochial virgins on their way to a Beatles' concert). That's right; the Plaids have invaded Seattle.
It is no stretch, (or insult) to say that Forever Plaid ain't Shakespeare. What it is, however, is a highly entertaining revue celebrating the boy groups of the 50s and 60s that were cool long before 'N Sync and the Backstreet Boys hit the charts. With the thinnest of plots (the Plaids are given the chance to come to back to earth and perform the show they never got to do in life) and more than a smidgen of innuendo, the Plaids perform 29 of your favorite songs from the 50s and 60s. The cast is excellent and the show is fun and well done. If you need some escapism between now and 'forever' (the show is currently scheduled through June, but one suspects they will be there until the Rep's 2001 season starts in the Fall) then this is the show for you.
Tickets are available at the Seattle Rep's box office, (206) 443-2222, or through Ticketmaster.