Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Minneapolis/St. Paul

As You Like It
Guthrie Theater
Review by Arthur Dorman | Season Schedule

Also see Arty's reviews of Falsettos and benevolence Renee's review of Potted Potter: The Unauthorized Harry Potter Experience


The Cast of As You Like It
Photo by Dan Norman
Since his arrival in 2015 as the Guthrie's Artistic Director, Joseph Haj has helmed the Shakespeare piece included in each season: Pericles, King Lear and Romeo and Juliet. For the current season, he has passed those duties on to Lavina Jadhwani, making her Guthrie debut after recently staging Gloria at Mixed Blood Theatre. Jadhwani has updated the frothy comedy with a Studio 54-like opening scene, a wrestling match that triggers images of WWF events, sleekly stylish apparel in the city and plaids and buckskin out of L.L.Bean for the rustic folks, but retains all of the language and the merry flavor of this work. With a few gender-bending casting choices and splendid lead actors who draw out the play's slapstick potential while maintaining its overlay of romance, this As You Like It tickles the eye, the ear and the heart. If you leave less than fully satisfied, your fault must be aimed at the Bard himself and not at this production.

Why would one fault Shakespeare, you may ask? While As You Like It is well constructed, with its quartet of couples who find their way to happy endings, and a voice of detached reason and melancholy coming from Duke Senior's un-mirthful fool Jaques, draw balance to the giddy romance of the piece, it is hard to quibble with the blueprint Shakespeare follows. What can be faulted is the implausibility of the whole thing, of couples falling in hopeless love at first sight, and the central character Rosalind's bent to deny herself her most cherished wishes for reasons that seem based on nothing more than to draw the play out into five acts (presented here in two, as is most often the case in modern productions). Not that these acts lack for wit, invention or poetics, but those who seek logic and likeliness may grow impatient as the tale unspools.

Happily, I am perfectly capable of suspending a need for realism when it comes to Shakespeare and thus had a marvelous time at As You Like It, fully charmed by its characters as they pursue both love and home. As the play begins, Duke Frederick has seized the crown of a French duchy from his brother Duke Senior, and banished Senior, who has encamped with a group of followers in Arden Forest. Senior's daughter Rosalind grew up with her cousin Celia, Frederick's daughter, the two as close as the closest of sisters. To please his daughter, the usurper Frederick allows Rosalind to stay on in his court. However, she continues to mope over her own father's foul fate and, fearing that she may draw public sympathy to her cause, Frederick banishes Rosalind after all. Celia defiantly tells her father that to banish Rosalind is the same as to banish her, and the two young women both leave. They take off for Arden Forest in search of her father, bringing Duke Frederick's fool Touchstone with them. For protection the tall Rosalind disguises herself as a male, using the name Ganymede, and Celia dresses herself as his poor sister.

However, this banishment does not occur before a youth named Orlando appears in Frederick's court to take on a wrestler in hopes of winning a purse of gold. Orlando's need for this stems from his brother Oliver refusing to grant Orlando his due share of their late father's estate. Orlando and Rosalind meet, becoming the play's first case of "love at first sight." Afterward, events cause Orlando to flee for his life, and he too heads off to Arden Forest. In the country, love runs rampant upon others: the shepherd Silvius loves the shepherdess Phoebe, but she spurns him, falling (instantly) in love with "Ganymede," not knowing, of course, the youth's true gender; Touchstone falls in love with the simple-minded Audrey, who in turn is pursued by William. In time, Oliver, also finds himself in the forest, where still another love-match awaits.

Of course, everyone's paths cross, but Rosalind withholds her identity. In the guise of Ganymede, she tutors Orlando on how he should woo his beloved. When Orlando bemoans that he will die without Rosalind, the tutor rebuts that poets have depicted such deaths, "but these are all lies. Men have died from time to time, and worms have eaten them, but not for love." Her intent seems to disabuse him of love borne of unattainable ideals and instead toward a mature and grounded love—though she herself continues to swoon over Orlando, albeit only in his absence.

One of Shakespeare's best-known monologues comes from As You Like It, with Jaques declaring "All the world's a stage/And all the men and women merely players/They have their exits and their entrances/And one man in his time plays many parts". Jaques goes on to describe the seven acts, or ages, of man, from infant on to the end of life, "second childishness and mere oblivion,/Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything." Indeed, Jaques is a most unlikely "fool," but it may be thought that to deny any hope of optimism is the greatest act of foolishness.

As is usual in Shakespeare's plays, the role of the fool is the honest voice, the one detached from the drama that consumes the other characters, who can therefore speak truth without bearing consequence. Director Jadhwani has cast the traditionally male roles of the play's two fools with female actors, Angela Timberman as Jaques and Sarah Agnew as Touchstone. Both have long proven their talent in handling comic roles (and, in the case of Jaques, Timberman does offer a comic, wise-guy approach to the usually somber fool), and both deliver as expected here.

The real center of As You Like It is Rosalind, who has many more lines than women in Shakespeare's plays usually are allowed. Her transformation from a lovely young lady of the court to a man traipsing through the rugged paths of Arden Forest and then, as that man, disguised back to a woman in order to safely tutor Orlando on the realities of love, makes her one of the Bard's most multi-dimensional characters of any gender. To that end, Meghan Kreidler delivers a multi-dimensional performance, both delicate and gruff, intoxicated by love and anchored by prescient wisdom. It is absolutely marvelous work. Jesse Bhamrah, in his Twin Cities acting debut, is delightful as Orlando, projecting his righteous indignation when cheated by his brother, a reserve of kindness toward his elderly servant Adam, and unquenchable lovesickness in his pursuit of Rosalind.

Other stand-outs in the large cast are Andrea San Miguel as Celia, adorably pouty, Sun Mee Chomet playing Phoebe as a lunatic-in-love, Chris Thorn contemptible as Duke Frederick and the soul of kindness as his brother Duke Senior, Max Wojtanowicz as Silvius, a slave to his unrequited love, and Nathaniel Fuller as ever-faithful Adam.

Music plays a major role in As You Like It. The three-member group Broken Cord provide original compositions, with a throbbing disco sound pulsing behind the urbane opening scene, while countrified melodies propel several songs Shakespeare imbedded for the play's rustic settings, particularly the well-known "Under the Greenwood Tree." The play both opens and closes with dance, choreographed by Tanya Birl, transitioning from a somewhat brutalist nightclub opening to a closing dance of joyful abandon as romance and good will rally together. Sound, light, costume, and set design all serve the production well, with a brightly constructed stand of trees representing Arden Forest, floor to ceiling columns in the duchy's court that cleverly spin 180 degrees to become massive tree trunks in Arden Forest, and a tire swing providing another whimsical touch.

Haj made a sound choice in turning the keys to this year's model Shakespeare over to a new director, who has made sound choices throughout, amounting to another winning production at the Guthrie. Haj loyalists need not fear, he will be helming the next show coming into to the the McGuire Theatre across the hall, a fresh look at Cyrano de Bergerac. For now, a few hours in the verdant confines of Arden Forest are a perfect respite from our long siege of wintery weather, bound to delight and warm our hearts.

As You Like It, through March 17, 2019, at the Guthrie Theater, Wurtele Thrust Stage, 618 South 2nd Street, Minneapolis MN. Tickets are $29.00 to $78.00. Seniors (65+), college students (with ID) $3.00 - $6.00 off per ticket. Military personnel, veterans and their families 15% discount per ticket. Public rush line for unsold seats 15-30 minutes before performance, up to four tickets, $20.00 - $25,00. For tickets call 612-377-2224 or go to GuthrieTheater.org.

Playwright: William Shakespeare; Director: Lavina Jadhwani; Choreographer: Tanya Birl; Set Design: Junghyun Georgia Lee; Costume Design: Ilona Somogyi; Lighting Design: Sarah Hughey; Original Music and Sound Design: Broken Cord; Dramaturg: Carla Steen; Voice Coach: Jill Walmsley Zager; Intimacy Consultant: Lauren Keating; Fight Director: Aaron Preusse; Music Consultant: Denise Prosek; Stage Manager: Justin Hossle; Assistant Stage Manager: Jamie J. Kranz; Assistant Director: Kelly M. Galvin; NYC Casting Consultant: McCorkle Casting, Ltd.; Design Assistants: Polly Bilski (costumes), Ryan Connealy (lighting), Reid Rejsa (sound)

Cast: Sarah Agnew (Touchstone), Jesse Bhamrah (Orlando), Sun Mee Chomet (Phoebe), Christiana Clark (Corin/Hymen), Ryan Colbert (Dennis/Lord), Brandon Dahlquist (Charles/Amiens), Austen T. Fisher (Lord/William), Nathaniel Fuller (Adam/Sir Oliver Martext), Meghan Kreidler (Rosalind), Marika Proctor (Audrey), Andrea San Miguel (Celia), Eric Sharp (Lord/Jacques De Boys), Chris Thorn (Duke Frederick/ Duke Senior), Angela Timberman (Jaques), Luis Vega (Oliver), Max Wojtanowicz (Le Beau/Silvius).


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