Theatre Mirror Reviews - "As You Like It"

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entire contents copyright 1997 by Beverly Creasey

Flower Power
at the Publick

Reviewed by Beverly Creasey

Leave it to the Publick Theatre's extraordinarily resourceful Deborah Schoenberg to set "As You Like It" in the '60s ... and, man oh man, it fits like the proverbial glove. Schoenberg must be a sorceress because she transforms a dozen or so teenagers (from the Publick's summer teen program) into professional Shakespearean actors who recreate the decade of peace and love as if they were born to it.

If Shakespeare didn't say "There's nothing new under the sun" he ought to have. (I think Emerson actually gets credit for the quote.) Once you've seen the Publick's hippie "As You Like It" you realize that the "animal rights" and "back to nature" movements are as old as, well, the hills of 1599, anyway.

Those hills are in the Forest of Arden where all the deserters from the court of Duke Frederick pop up like so many flower children, singing the praises of love and condemning the trappings of war. Is there any environmentalist in literature more outspoken than Jaques who laments the murder of a deer ... or any more idealistic lovers than Rosalind and Orlando, who fall in love at first sight?

If you'll recall the plot, there's even a "Be-In" in the text where the frolicking exiles share their food and drink with total strangers. There's even an amnesty like Jimmy Carter's at the end of the play so that the deserters can return home without fear of reprisal. Once you've seen Schoenberg's translation, you won't be able to see another "As You Like It" without thinking it truly belongs in the '60s. Shakespeare practically penned "What the World Needs Now is Love Sweet Love," didn't he?

Schoenberg's musical choices to set up each scene are hilariously, oh so cleverly right on. Two sets of brothers are at odds here, so of course we hear the Youngbloods' "C'mon People Now, Smile on Your Brother". And what would the '60s be without Dylan and The Byrds. "Heigh Ho, The Holly" becomes a hippie anthem when set to a Linda Ronstadt/Stone Ponies beat by composers Jesse Soursourian and Greg Baldia and delivered by Alexandra Hanson, Gio Gaynor and Soursourian.

The talented cast is headed by the enchanting Elizabeth Ross as Rosalind (the longest role in Shakespeare), beloved of the dashing Orlando, portrayed by Alex Miller with equal measure youthful zeal and wide-eyed innocence (How else could he not recognize the disguised Rosalind?). The fool is portrayed by a whirling dynamo named Eric Balas (who reminded me of a young Simon Callow). Virag Zahajszky gives a haunting performance as the righteous moralist, Jaques. And composer Greg Baldia gets lots of laughs as the wrestler (right out of "Guys & Dolls") then, minus the laughs, is Duke Senior.

Gio Gaynor and Kelli Rushing have the best comic moments as the love-sick shepherd and the unwilling object of his attentions. Max Reynolds does remarkable triple duty as a pitiable yokel, as a noble exile, and as Duke Frederick the userper. Erica Meltzer is a plucky cousin to Rosalind and a love match for Jesse Soursourian (who composed and performs the show's delightful music). Nayibe Gulesian is all business as the efficient newswoman, and the silver tongued Alexandra Ganson is a lithe Mary for Schoenberg's adorable "Peter, Paul & Mary" trio (with Gaynor and Soursourian).

Kerry Hensley is Orlando's faithful but weary servant and Kelly Robichaud is adorably droll as Touchstone's wench. Anne Webber portrays Touchstone's counterpoint, the thoughtful shepherd-philosopher. Kudos, too, to Clifford Allen for the crack combat choreography (especially the wrestling match), to Gabriela Sarhos and Ann Rushing for the flowing hippie costumes, and to Kristan Burke for the authentic dance movement a la Scott McKenzie's gentle "people in motion". It transported this aging flower child happily back to her youth.

"As You Like It" (18, 19, 25 & 26 August)
The Publick Theatre, Christian A Herter Park, 1175 Soldiers Field Road, BRIGHTON
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