“All the world’s a stage…” William Shakespeare’s classic comedy As You Like It features some of his most famous monologues and a great deal of whimsy. Currently being presented in Los Angeles by the Antaeus Theatre Company in a production that makes the four-centuries-old work feel fresh, this charming tale of shepherds, mistaken identity, and love at first sight leaves you feeling so uplifted you nearly forget Shakespeare is best known for his tragedies.
Directed here by internationally acclaimed Shakespeare scholar Rob Clare, the action unfolds on a simple yet opulent, sprawling set (François-Pierre Couture) with enough entrances, exits, and eavesdropping vantage points to accentuate the often farcical nature of the play. In Antaeus tradition, the production is fully partner-cast, and the cast members recognized below are part of the “Peascods” company. The plot is at once convoluted and simple—the main storyline follows Rosalind (Sally Hughes), a young woman who lives with her uncle, Duke Frederick (Brian Abraham) and her cousin, Celia (Desiree Mee Jung) at a duchy in France. Rosalind’s father, Duke Senior (Bernard K. Addison) has been driven out by his brother, but Rosalind was allowed to remain because of her close friendship with Celia. One day they encounter Orlando (Matthew Gallenstein), a handsome gentleman who has also been forced into exile by his brother. Rosalind and Orlando fall in love at first sight, but are immediately separated when Rosalind’s behavior upsets her uncle and results in her banishment (her actual offense is honestly rather inscrutable, which is likely the point).
Accompanied by the court fool, Touchstone (JD Cullum), Rosalind and Celia concoct a plan to flee into the Forest of Arden together with Rosalind disguised as a man. While in the woods, they encounter quite the cast of eccentric characters, and eventually cross paths with Orlando, who is so beside himself that he is literally hanging poems about his deep and undying love for Rosalind from the trees. Rosalind can’t stay away and approaches him as her male alter ego—this is where suspension of disbelief is truly required—spinning a tale about how “he” will help Orlando get over his love by impersonating Rosalind so they can act out a hypothetical relationship. Somehow, Orlando goes for this, but things get complicated when a shepherdess, Phebe (Anna Lamadrid) falls for “Rosalind” and Celia falls for Orlando’s estranged brother, Oliver (Wayne T. Carr). Amidst all of this, Touchstone is experiencing his own comedic love story with Audrey (Karen Malina White), another shepherdess. Rosalind is in quite over her head, but concocts an elaborate plan that, if successful, will end in almost everyone being happily married to their desired mates. Whenever the mood threatens to get too mischievous, Jaques (James Sutorius), a morose traveler in the woods, pops up to offer bleak insights related to the goings on, at one point delivering the famous “all the world’s a stage” speech.
As a play, As You Like It is charming yet wise, and Antaeus’s cast does a splendid job. Hughes and Gallenstein have such intense chemistry as the two leads that you almost buy love at first sight is as real a phenomenon as Shakespeare wants you to believe. Standouts in the cast include Jung, who creates so many layers of longing and subtle jealousy in Celia that when she finally finds her own happily ever after moment, it’s the most triumphant of the night. Sutorius and Cullum are also scene stealers in very different ways, the first delivering melancholy monologues and the latter the most humorous moments of the piece perfectly. Now in their second production in their new and improved space in Glendale, Antaeus also continues to raise the bar when it comes to their design elements. The costumes in the Forest of Arden evoke a vaguely 1970s bohemian feel, and the play’s numerous songs were beautifully performed, adding some musical flavor to break up the action.
Generally, the many strengths of the production keep the action moving along nicely no matter how convoluted the plot gets. Act two meanders a bit too much between inconsequential storylines and feels about 20 minutes too long, but that is ultimately Shakespeare’s fault. There is also something about the general concept of a woman masquerading as a man to, essentially, get away with more in life, that still rings all too true in 2017, especially in our current political climate. Overall, Antaeus’s take on As You Like It is a charming and satisfying one—and who doesn’t appreciate an ending where everyone is happy and the plot is tied up neatly with a bow from time to time?
As You Like It runs at Antaeus’s Kiki & David Gindler Performing Arts Center in Glendale through September 10th. Performances are Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays at 8pm and Saturdays and Sundays at 2pm. The running time is two hours and 30 minutes, including one intermission. Tickets start at $30 and can be purchased at www.Antaeus.org. For a schedule of performances, including which actors will perform on which dates, click here.
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