Regional Reviews: Florida - West Coast
Two tree stumps make do as the only scenery, and costumes by Sofia Gonzales are pretty to the eye, but left me totally uncertain of where and when this production is set. Our leading women Rosalind and Celia, as well as Le Beau, appear in hoop skirts for the opening scene, set in Duke Frederick's court, suggesting the American Civil War for a period, but there is no follow-through with that. Outfitting the men in the forest scenes has little consistency. Normally a class of 12, this year's second-year conservatory students are down to 10, and one withdrew from this production for medical issues, necessitating doubling of parts, a few of which cause confusion when trying to follow the complicated intermingling of loving pairs. One particularly egregious example has Duke Frederick and his brother Duke Senior played by the same actor, when their feud is an important plot-driving point. Multiple character assumptions are uneven. I fault director Jonathan Epstein for allowing such a muddle.
All of the student actors have mastered the delivery of Shakespearean iambic pentameter verse quite well. Voice and dialect coach Patricia Delorey gets a tip of the hat for this. If that is the principal reason for these productions of Shakespeare's works, then they are a success, even if acting the parts along with classical deportment is somewhat uneven. First year student Bonita Jackson stepped into the role of Rosalind during the rehearsal process and acquits herself nobly. Her Rosalind is full of feminine wiles, while her Ganymede is funny when he slips back to being Rosalind in his mind due to amorous thoughts overtaking him. Michael Judah is a manly Orlando, at his best when he is strong and sure of heart and mind. There is a long wooing scene set in the forest (Shakepeare's fourth act). Ganymede attempts to teach Orlando the ways a man must pursue his maiden. Jackson as Rosalind/Ganymede is funny here as he/she drifts between the male and female personalities. These are is not Mr. Judah as Orlando's best scenes, except when he can show the physical expressions of Orlando's utter confusion. The early confrontation between Orlando and older brother Oliver, played by Joe Ferrarelli, over his rightful place within the family's wealth, and leading to a wrestling match is excellent and propels the action forward. Mr. Ferrarelli is a strong presence in this role, eyes flashing fire, while his rustic lover Corin does not fit as well.
Though Creg Sclavi as middle brother Jacques doesn't register completely, he gets several of the most memorable lines, such as "All the world's a stage..." and he speaks them well, even with the confusion. When he later becomes rustic Willem, my confusion between Willem and Jacques was at its highest level. Jonathan Grunert is a fine, aristocratic Duke Frederick, but casting him as his own brother is a decided mistake. I doubt anyone in the audience who had not recently brushed up their Shakespeare could keep those two clear. Jillian Cicalese is Rosalind's cousin Celia, and Marc Bitler is adorable as love lorn Silvius, in pursuit of Carla Corvo as Sheperdess Phoebe. Brian Ritchie plays one of Shakespeare's great clowns, Touchstone, with great physicality. Alex Pelletier participates in multiple roles, the most successful of which is Audrey, a lusty maiden who catches the eye of Touchstone.
Asolo Conservatory's As You Like It is a mixed bag alongside the mixed up romantic entanglements of its characters. Bringing in a couple of additional first year students to further populate the Forest of Arden would likely add some clarity. Seeing talented student actors tackling one of William Shakespeare's greatest comedies is definitely one of the positives, the natural beauty of Selby Gardens as a setting is another.
Asolo Conservatory for Actor Training's As You Like It, through April 27, 2019, at Marie Selby Gardens, 900 S Palm Ave., Sarasota FL. For tickets and information, call the box office at 941-351-8000 or visit www.asolorep.org/conservatory.
Cast (in order of appearance):