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As You Like It

Theatre Review by Cindy Pierre

Photo by Jim Baldassare.

Romance and good humor overflow in Frog & Peach's pleasing production of As You Like It. Making every effort to support the title, the cast and crew all rally together to present the Bard's pastoral comedy in the most lighthearted and enjoyable manner by being serious about their crafts. It may sound like an oxymoron, but there's hardly anything at odds in this well-conceived, impressive presentation of the show that brought the world the quote "all the world's a stage."

You may not have a desire to be on display when you come to the show, but you're likely to still feel like a participant for several reasons. The West End Theatre's modest space is both intimate and grand, housing an elegance that usually only larger theaters provide. It's easy to feel as though you've come upon a hidden treasure when you're in the audience, but P. Costello Caldwell's gorgeous Forest of Arden solidifies that notion. The set, consisting of large, beautiful foliage paintings, really does make you want to get up out of your seat and frolic despite the lazy, possibly false plants onstage that mark the forest's entrance. And if that weren't enough, the cast is hell bent on interacting with its patrons.

CAMRYN GRIMES (Rosalind) and HARRY ORAM (Orlando)
Photo by Jim Baldassare.

When we first meet Touchstone (Lenny Ciotti), As You Like It's clown, we know that we're going to be entertained. Sporting a polka-dot shirt and Chinese mary janes, Ciotti throws himself into his role as well as into your personal space if you're sitting in the first row. He's a showman all right, and has no qualms about stealing a scene even though he's meant to be only support to Rosalind (Camryn Grimes) and Celia (Monica Jones), best friends and cousins that have taken to the forest after Celia' dad, Duke Frederick (the overly bombastic Joe Corey), banishes Rosalind from his kingdom much as he did her father, Duke Senior (also played by Corey), before. While Rosalind is on a journey that will ultimately lead her to her papa dearest, she swoons over Orlando (Harry Oram), a young, passionate man persecuted by his older brother, Oliver (Joseph W. Rodriguez),that she once met even though Celia does her best to keep her grounded. Celia's methods may sometimes be unorthodox - it's her idea to assume the identity of Aliena and she doesn't protest Rosalind's idea to disguise herself as Ganymede, a man in a Robin Hood like ensemble - her heart's in the right place. As Celia, Jones is radiant and plays up generously to the crowd, smiling coquettishly at her fellow cast members just as much as the audience. We get the sense, from her performance as well as everyone else's, that they are genuinely interested in making the audience have a good time.

LENNY CIOTTI (Touchstone)
Photo by Jim Baldassare.

Yet, our good time does not depend on the actors alone. Jak Prince's lighting design functions as an overt Cupid that will make you grin every time. If you don't readily see the connection between Rosalind and Orlando, Celia and Oliver and Touchstone and Audrey (Amy Frances Quint), the country wench, the dramatic lowering of the lights will clue you in. And although Ian Marshall' fight choreography during Orlando and Charles' (Bruce Nicholls in a bad but funny wig) wrestling scene may not be as authentic looking as the fights in the UFC (Ultimate Fighting Championship), it adds a machismo to the performance that juxtaposes all the romance nicely.

Another thing that at first seems out of sorts, but then finds its place in the production is the singing and guitar playing. Although Duke Senior is attended by the lords Hugo (Robert Pass), Jacques (the fabulous Sidney Williams) and Amiens (Eric Doss) during a very taxing time, they sing and play songs by Ted Zurkowski that defy misery and embrace levity. And it's the perfect calming balm needed while all the confusion about usurping kingdoms, donning disguises and finding love are in play.

As You Like It is as much about testing love as it is about accepting the hoops that you need to go through to acquire it. Luckily, director Lynnea Benson understands the different notes that lovers hit and is able to elicit that from the cast, no matter the decibel. Words of devotion can be thrown about, but most of us understand "no pain, no gain", even if the pain comes in nothing more than the embarrassment that Orlando feels when he discovers Rosalind's identity. We also understand the struggles that bring people together such as the similar persecution that Rosalind and Orlando experience from their families. As You Like It may be a comedy, but even comedies need conflict, particularly if love is part of the package. And for all the hard work and great execution involved, Frog & Peach is selling us a lot of quality for our buck.

As You Like It
Through May 10
West End Theatre, 263 West 86th Street between Broadway and West End Avenue in the Church of St. Paul & St. Andrew, second floor
Performances: Th 7:30 pm, Fri 7:30 pm, Sat 7:30 pm, Sun 3:00 pm
Tickets online: SmartTix