Sunday, February 20, 2005

ARTS: As You Like It

Sir Peter Hall has done a fine job of bringing to life Shakespeare's As You Like It at the Ahmanson Theatre, with his daughter Rebecca Hall starring as Rosalind. Although it may be argued that As You Like It was a rough draft of themes more finely honed in Twelfth Night or A Midsummer Night's Dream, the classic Bard comedy elements (girl-dressed-as-boy falls in love with boy while another girl falls for the "boy"), with fantastical twists that make it all work out right in the end, are ever delightful. A signature element of this play is the contrast between courtly people and country folk, and though peasant shepherds are portrayed as a bit dim, they are all equals in love. Indeed, it is the shepherd boy Silvius who expounds on "what 'tis to love" as Phebe, Ganymede-Rosalind, and Orlando add only a chorus of "and I".

In this production, all of the characters are vivid and well-acted. Rebecca Hall as Rosalind and Dan Stevens as Orlando are charmingly fresh, earnest, and noble. Rebecca Callard as Celia acts the perfect "younger sister". The shepherd boy Silvius (David Birkin) is sweetly plaintive, while shepherd girls Phebe and Audrey are good physical comediennes. Michael Siberry as the fool Touchstone has the right cynical demeanor, but unfortunately talks out of the side of his mouth most of the time so you can't understand what he's saying. And Jaques is perfectly irrascible (but good with diction, especially important as he gets the famous "All the world's a stage" speech). Peter Hall's direction compliments the text with some meaningful visualization, with scenes such as Oliver's passing of bribe money to the wrestler, Orlando's first dumbstruck exchanges with Rosalind, Orlando putting love notes on all the trees, "Ganymede" sometimes forgetting "his" part, and Phebe's reluctant acquiescience to Silvius in the end. And his overall dressing of the usurping Duke Frederick in a paramilitary uniform gave an insightful impression of him as an arbitrary, controlling, and mildly paranoid dictator. The set was simple, but a few trees that blended seamlessly into a backdrop created a perfectly pastoral forest. All in all, it was delightful to pass an afternoon in the Forest of Arden with these characters.

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