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A CurtainUp Los Angeles Review
As You Like It
The venerable Antaeus Theatre Company has to be tickled as all get-out to finally have a permanent new performance space at the Kiki and David Gindler Performing Arts Center in downtown Glendale. Fans of L.A. based classic theater will note that the location sits a few short blocks from the home of the former Masonic temple that was the longtime home of another classics-centric company, A Noise Within (long since flown to Pasadena).
The Gindler is a compact space with five or six rows, a wide apron, excellent sightlines and acoustics, all of which are used to serviceable if unspectacular effect in director Rob Clare's production of As You Like It. It seems curious that for a play set largely in the Forest of Arden, with characters declaiming left and right about the beauty of a pastoral life, Clare and scenic designer Francois-Pierre Couture would make the single, unchanging set a standard issue palazzo. With nary a tree to be found, love-besotted Orlando (played by Matthew Gallenstein in the Peascod company) affixes his love notes to pillars. All the world may be a stage, but this time around, it's not an especially verdant one.
Granted, knocking an As You Like It for its arboreal dearth may seem a little sour, especially for a production with as many delights as the Antaeus offering possesses. Clare's direction is clear and he keeps the story focused. By judiciously trimming the text (including the loss of several nature scenes and references) he keeps the action forward-moving and peppy. Some of the company's interaction with the audience feel a bit forced (more on those presently), but the players are superb, almost to a person. When a company can deploy scene stealers like Steve Hofvendahl (Corin) and Anna Lamadrid (Phebe) alongside the likes of JD Cullum and James Sutorius in the text-heavy roles of Touchstone and Jaques, one clearly has an embarrassment of riches.
Those aforementioned actors are only half the largesse. The company's practice of double casting every role means two distinctly different experiences. Having never watched the same Antaeus production staged by both rotating casts, I can't comment on how these differences manifest. Presumably Hughes's Rosalind (dressed as the boy Ganneymeade) schooling Gallenstein's Orlando in ways of love are delivered with different shadings than Julia Davis and Daisuke Tsuji in the Acorn company possess. Perhaps Adam J. Smith's Touchstone does not turn the verbal takedown of William into a mic-dropping game show monologue the way Cullum does.
So it goes. Praise certainly to the Peascods who handle the antics as deftly as the verse. When Hughes's Rosalind falls in love at first sight, she takes even herself by surprise. In their initial encounter Gallenstein's Orlando wrestles the beefy Charles while wearing a mask, so Rosalind doesn't set eyes on Orlando's face until after his victory. The mask comes off and, lo and behold, the valiant young fighter of good parentage is also seriously hot. Both actors do tongue-tied hilariously. Indeed, Gallenstein is so good at looking like a love-besotted dim bulb that it doesn't seem credible that he's also a guy who writes love verse.
Once she is dressed as a boy in the Forest of Arden, Hughes gamely pivots to action engineer. Her hair tucked underneath a fashionable cap (A. Jeffrey Schoenberg's costumes have a 70s bohemian vibe), Hughes makes the Ganneymede ruse feel like a convenience more than an act of empowerment. If she's actively enjoying transforming Orlando into her perfect man, Hughes sure isn't showing it. Butting into the Silvius-Phebe conundrum is, for this Rosalind, clearly an act of exasperation and possibly hormonal frustration. She's so ticked at Orlando's absence that she takes it out on Phebe.
Although she's the play's driving force, Rosalind largely drops out of the play for a couple of acts. Since we're left in the company of the banished Duke Senior (Bernard K. Addison), his attendants, and especially James Sutorius's Jaques, all is well. His watery eyes shining or desperately sad, Sutorius moves quickly from being giddy and delighted at the curiosity of meeting a fool in the forest ("Motley is the only wear") to palpable sorrow at the plight of Orlando's servant Adam (Mitchell Edmonds). The Seven Ages of Man is a melancholy speech, but this Jaques doesn't stay blue for long. In fact, he proves to be a lot better company than the courtiers give him credit for.
Cullum's Touchstone warms to his foolery as the production develops. He may be smarter than the shepherd, but his banter with Hofvendahl's Corin is a lost cause since this shepherd has the drollery of Bob Newhart and pretty much steals all of the Fool's laughs.
Putting a shiny ribbon atop this package is another of the play's late arrivals: Anna Lamadrid, whose shepherdess Phebe so badly needs somebody to love and hasn't quite figured out that the adoring Silvius (Paul Culos) can serve the turn. In a quite adorable performance, Lamadrid is tall, doe-eyed and so confused by the interference of Rosalind/Gannymede that her default is falling in love with the girl. When Rosalind finally sets things right, it's lovely to see that Lamadrid's Phebe doesn't view Silvius as a consolation prize. Those two will be just fine together.
Even before the audience-embracing epilogue (which is divided among the four principle female characters), Clare's cast occasionally works a little too strenuously to get us into the spirit. No need. Even without greenery, the Anteaus Arden is a swell place for a party. So Glendaleans, rejoice. You've got a new home for the classics back in your midst.
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As You Like It by William Shakespeare
Directed by Rob Clare
Cast: (Peascod cast) Sally Hughes, Desiree Mee Jung, Matthew Gallenstein, Wayne T. Carr, James Sutorius, JD Cullum, Brian Abraham, Bernard K. Addison, Steve Hofvendahl, Anna Lamadrid, Paul Culos, Karen Malina White, Mitchell Edmonds, John Bobek, Luis Kelly-Duarte, Todd Waring, Andy Stokan.
Costume Design: A. Jeffrey Schoenberg
Scenic Design: Francois-Pierre Couture Production Stage Manager: Kristin Weber
Composer and Sound Designer: Peter Bayne
Lighting Designer: Zach Moore
Properties Master: Anya Allyn Kolesnikoff
Plays through September 10, 2017 at the Kiki and David Gindler Performing Arts Center, 110 East Broadway, Glendale, (818) 506-1983, www.antaeus.org.
Running time: Two hour and 30 minutes with one 15 minute intermission.
Reviewed by Evan Henerson
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