As You Like It
Reviewed by Terry Morgan
Antaeus Theatre Company
Through Sept 10th
One of the reasons for the continued popularity of Shakespeare’s work over the centuries is how unusually open it is to reinterpretation — directors or actors can use it as a lens with which to focus anew on some aspect of the world. It’s kind of expected today that a director will put his or her mark on a production — which is why it’s somewhat disappointing that the new mounting of As You Like It by the Antaeus Theatre Company (generally one of the most reliable group of artists in town) seems static and flat. As usual, Antaeus has double-cast this production: this is a review of the “Peascods” cast.
The story follows Rosalind (Sally Hughes) and Orlando (Matthew Gallenstein), two smitten young people separately banished from their homeland. As fate has it, they both end up in the Forest of Arden. Orlando is staying with a group of banished duke’s men and Rosalind, disguised as a man, is staying with her friend Celia (Desirée Mee Jung). As Rosalind attempts to determine the authenticity of Orlando’s love, the power-mad Duke Frederick (Brian Abraham) gets ever closer to tracking them down to wreak his vengeance.
Hughes is charming as the exasperated Rosalind, whipsawing from bitter jibe to lovesick swoon sometimes in a single sentence. She’s especially good in a scene where she interrogates Orlando about the particulars of his ardor. Gallenstein plays Orlando as more bemused than distraught by love, and his take on the character works. Jung makes an indelible impression as the strong-willed Celia, although the talented JD Cullum seems to be straining, and only partially succeeds in making the show funnier as Touchstone.
Abraham exudes appropriate menace as the villainous Duke, and Steve Hofvendahl is a low-key delight as the philosophical shepherd Corin. Anna Lamadrid is very funny as the willful Phebe, and Wayne T. Carr makes the most of his few scenes as Orlando’s brother, Oliver. Finally, James Sutorius steals the show with an impeccable rendering of the “Ages of Man” speech, delivered by the melancholy Jaques.
Director Rob Clare’s staging is lackluster; it consists mainly of people entering and exiting, and is missing any sense of energy or visual interest. François-Pierre Couture’s set is a bland array of arches that couldn’t seem less like a forest (a lapse uncharacteristic for this generally terrific designer). Unfortunately, when Clare does have an idea, it regrettably is a hip-hop dance sequence wherein unlucky first-row audience members are dragged onstage to frolic.
Ultimately, there’s plenty of good acting in this production, but the uninspired direction and design leaves the ensemble stranded.
Kiki & David Gindler Performing Arts Center, 110 East Broadway, Glendale; www.Antaeus.org; Running time: two hours and 30 minutes with an intermission.