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A CurtainUp Los Angeles Review
As You Like It
No knock, this. Shakespeare in Geer is typically Shakespeare for a general audience and the post-Civil War set production of As You Like It directed by company matriarch Ellen Geer is no exception. With an endlessly entertaining Elizabeth Tobias leading the charge as Celia, Geer's production is spunky, hormone-laced, occasionally thoughtful, and largely a cool breeze of entertainment on a hot afternoon. The Antebellum folk songs are smartly chosen and Willow Geer makes for a game ring-leader as the lovestruck cross-dressing heroine Rosalind.
Lovestruck is every bit the order of the day. Now that the War between Brothers is at an end (well sort of), Rosalind, Celia, Touchstone and all those frisky inhabitants of the Forest of Arden can get down to the business of coupling up Indeed, the number of girlish squeals over love notes on trees, assumed marriage proposals etc. is staggering. You half expect even Melora Marshall's "melancholy" Jacques to get in on the act. And he kinda does, casually groping Celia and planting a big ol' wet kiss on Colin Simon's nonplussed Orlando.
The period overlay is mostly well thought-out. Gerald C. Rivers' Touchstone (wearing his dreadlocks in every style imaginable) and Earnestine Phillips' Aida (Orlando servant, "Adam" in the original text) are both former slaves, as probably is Crystal Clark's Audrey. Rebel General Senior (Thad Geer) has fled to the Forest of Arden after his command has been usurped by his Union brother Frederick (Thad Geer again). Not entirely sure how, during reconstruction, any Confederate General can now be illegally relieved of his command, but perhaps it's best not to question. Either way, the Arden-ites (including Rosalind when she is banished) don their gray caps, break out their banjos and mandolins, sing their "long live the south" songs and appear to be having a high old time of things out in pastoral exile.
The text has been expeditiously trimmed to keep things moving. Still intact, peculiarly, is Jacques' lament over the slain deer, with Marshall (whose performance leans more toward cranky than melancholy) positively keening over a very hokey-looking stuffed animal. With costume designer Amy Mazzaferro garbing everyone in imaginative, period-specific duds, it all makes for a splendid tableau.
Simon's Orlando and Geer's Rosalind spark nicely at their first meeting. Things are a smidgen cooler when a disguised Rosalind is instructing Orlando on wooing techniques, but whenever Orlando has to depart, Rosalind's merriness falls away. When she admits to Tobias's Celia that she has it bad for Orlando, Geer leaves no doubt that this is the case.
With his hot blond hair and great abs, Simon's Orlando should be catnip to all the ladies. The actor digs deeper to establish our young hero is someone who will have a life outside of being in love. Rivers' Touchstone deftly handles most of the production's comic bits and he jousts excellently with Leo Knudson's crusty shepherd Corin (wearing a great prospector outfit) and later with Audrey's bumpkinish suitor William (Camerone Rose)
The production's shiniest light is Tobias who adds girlish energy and gravitas to the early scenes with Geer, whines fetchingly while riding piggy-back on Touchstone, and convincingly falls in love at first sight with Frank Wediner's Oliver. Celia is a silent observer in several scenes (including Gannymede-Orlando), and Tobias is so sly and dead on in her reactions that she risks hijacking them. Someone ought to put this actress in doublet and hose and let her take a swing at Rosalind.
But for now, the Arden-t revelry at the Theatricum makes for plenty of Southern comfort.