Regional Reviews: Phoenix
As You Like It
One of Shakespeare's most accessible comedies, As You Like It is the story of a series of lovers, most notably Rosalind and Orlando, who fall in love at first site but then find themselves just as quickly separated. Rosalind and her cousin Celia flee into the forest after Rosalind has been banished from the court by her uncle. Meanwhile, Orlando, who has also been persecuted by his brother Oliver, also escapes into the forest. While there, they encounter several other characters, most with love issues of their own.
While the plot is slightly contrived and somewhat convoluted, it is easy to follow and the contrivances only add to the fun of the play in how it displays, and somewhat mocks, the folly of love. Director David Vining has updated the time period, setting it in the American Colonies of 1700. The Puritan time frame works well in how the oppression of the period mirrors the characters' escape into the freedom of the forest. Vining sets a nice tone throughout, with the entire cast delivering well thought, humorous portrayals and the action moving fairly swiftly in the two hour production.
Allison Sell is a breath of fresh air as Rosalind. She brings an exuberance to the part that makes the audience instantly fall in love with her, just as Orlando does. Shakespeare has written a lot of intricate dialogue for Rosalind, and Sell has fun with the witty word play. Ross Hellwig is charming as the tongue-tied and love-struck man. His expressions and body language really make you see how much he loves Rosalind, and, when Rosalind is later disguised as a man, his confused looks at the attraction he feels for this man are priceless. Sell and Hellwig are both exceptional and they make a winning couple.
As Celia, Emily Mohney is excellent. She is playful and sweet, while, in sharp contrast, Jesse James Kamps is fierce and angry as Orlando's brother Oliver, until he too finds himself struck by cupid's arrow. As Touchstone, the court fool who accompanies Celia and Rosalind into the forest, William Wilson is hilarious. He delivers quick-witted commentary on the other characters as well as a superb mocking scene where he comes up with words that rhyme with Rosalind. He and Jordan Letson as the dim-witted goatherd Audrey make a bawdy couple.
In smaller parts, Rick Davis as Jaques delivers a comically expressive version of the famous "All the world's a stage" speech, with Davis' wide eyes adding a joyful meaning to the words. Alyson Maloney elevates Phebe's forceful determination and confusion over her attraction to the disguised Rosalind into a spirited, rich performance; and Jim Coates is touching as the older servant Adam. Harold Dixon, as both Celia and Rosalind's fathers, gets the advantage of playing two starkly different roles, which he does with ease. And Noah Brown contributes a few spirited songs throughout, accompanying himself on a balalaika, which he skillfully plays.
Scenic designer Kimb Williamson contributes just a few simple yet effective elements, including a large set piece and drops that resemble trees, quickly setting the locales of the scenes. Maci Hosler's costumes are perfect. From the dark puritan designs and colors in the first scene, with velvet fabrics, capes, hats and thick belts, to the combination of browns, reds, oranges and greens in the forest outfits, they all work well.
Southwest Shakespeare Company's As You Like It is an enjoyable production of a classic comedy. With superb performances all around, including Sell in yet another excellent performance, and joyful turns by Hellwig, Mohney and Wilson, it is a perfect complement with SSC's exceptional King Lear.
As You Like It runs in repertory with King Lear through January 31st, 2015, with performances at the Mesa Arts Center, 1 East Main Street in Mesa, AZ. Tickets can be purchased at swshakespeare.org or by calling 480-644-6500.
Director: David Vining
*Member of Actors Equity Association