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“As You Like It”–comedic farce delights at Great Lakes Theater

“As You Like It” comedic farce delights at Great Lakes Theater

Roy Berko
(Member, American Theatre Critics Association and Cleveland Critics Circle)

What do the phrases, “all the world’s a stage” and “too much of a good thing” have in common?  They are both quotes from Shakespeare’s pastoral comedy “As You Like It.”  As is true of that genre, the play, which was written early in 1600, deals with shepherds and the rustic life, but, also concerns love, in its various forms.

“As You Like It” is  one of the Bard’s most famous works and, as presented at Great Lakes Theater, one that delights an audience.

The plot seems complicated, but, as is true of many of Shakespeare’s works of exile and romance, which are meant to entertain, there is a great deal of farcical slapstick, overly wrought lovers who find bliss by the time the final curtain falls, and what seems confusing is, in fact, simplistic.

The plot:  Frederick has taken over and exiled his older brother, Duke Senior.  The Duke’s daughter, Rosalind, has been allowed to stay in the castle to be a companion to her cousin Celia.  In a parallel plot, Orlando, whose wealthy father has died, is denied his part of his father’s estate by his older brother.  The stories join when Rosalind and Orlando fall in love, but their connection is broken when the Duke has a change of heart and exiles Rosalind.  Celia and Rosalind steal away to the forest where Duke Senior is ensconced with a group of his followers.  Rosalind, is dressed as a male, a common Shakespearean theatrical device of hidden identities.   Add a jester, a couple of sheppards, some chance encounters, some twists and turns, lots of farcical shticks, more music than is normal for Shakespearean play, and a happy ending.  Of course, to quote the Bard, “All’s well that ends well.”

Great Lakes Theater’s production, under the direction of Edward Morgan, is entertaining, but doesn’t seem to fulfill Morgan’s director’s notes.  He has reinvented the play, he contends, by changing its setting to America, which he feels, “gives the text new resonance.”

Morgan writes that the play starts in New England, in the midst of the second Industrial Revolution, not long after the start of the 20th century.  “The Forest of Arden is in the foothills of the Adirondack mountains.  The villains are greedy, thriving Industrialists.”  “Rosalind and Orlando are the new Americans.”  “Rosalind becomes a kind of metaphor for American womanhood.”  The Elizabethan songs have been replaced “with tunes that echo these themes through Yankee sentiment and syncopation.”

Though he philosophizes those goals, starting the play with a metal grinding scene, does not an industrial revolution make.   How are we to know that is his intent?  None of the language of Shakespeare’s script carries the “industrial revolution” message nor any implication of the villains as “greedy Industrialists.”

The music insertions, though many create the right mood, do not all fit the time period described.

Rosalind, rather than being a metaphor for the liberated woman, follows the historical, tried and true path of putting a man (Orlando) above all else and gets her desire, not a career, but a marriage.

If Morgan wanted to really reimagine the play he needed to add dialogue that makes his message clear.  He would not have been the first to add to, or delete the Bard’s words.

All theorizing aside, the production delights.  Martin Céspedes’s choreography, which is evident throughout, is creative and brought applause from the audience.  Especially endearing is the soft-shoe tap dance of Touchstone (Dustin Tucker), the court fool.  Also creative is the dance at the end of the play in which Céspedes has developed character identifying moves for each couple.

The pacing, the visual images, the Borsht-belt shticks, and the performances are all top notch.

The petite and talented Betsy Mugavero, makes for a radiant Rosalind.  Though she doesn’t really look like the “man” she is supposed to play during her “disguised” segments, she is right for the Shakespeare habit of sex switching.  (Interestingly, during the Bard’s time the task was easy, as young boys played the female roles.)

Handsome and gym-toned Torsten Johnson is a physically strong, yet gentle Orlando.  Johnson and Mugavero have a wonderful interpersonal chemistry that makes their love-in-bloom scenes engaging.

Dustin Tucker, who has a remarkable resemblance to old vaudeville performer Red Buttons, delights as the Court Fool.  He does slapstick exceedingly well.

The rest of the cast develops appropriate characterizations.

Russell Metheny’s set designs and Rick Martin’s lighting help in developing the story.  Kim Krumm Sorenson’s costumes often confuse.  They don’t always develop the era depicted.  Her backwoods inhabitant’s costumes, however, are character right.

Capsule judgement: Great Lakes Theater’s “As You Like It,” though it doesn’t
fully develop director Edward Morgan’s philosophical objectives, is delightful.  The many students who will attend should go away with a very positive concept of the Shakespearean comedy at its best.

“As You Like It” runs from April 9-14, 2014 at the Hanna Theatre.  For tickets go to: 216-664-6064 or