Regional Reviews: Minneapolis/St. Paul
Most of the play is set in the Forest of Arden, a place where men and woman seem destined to find the object of their true love and affection. At the start, Duke Senior has had his crown usurped by his vile brother Duke Frederick and lives in the forest with several faithful lords. He does not plot revenge or pine for his lost kingdom, but makes a contented life in harmony with his surroundings. Senior's daughter Rosalind was allowed by Frederick to remain in the palace as a companion to his own daughter Celia, for the two girls are knitted together as friends, closer than sisters. At the estate of the deceased Lord Roland de Bois we meet eldest son (and inheritor of their father's fortune) Oliver and youngest son Orlando, whom Oliver harshly abuses and keeps in a state of dependency. On a visit to the palace, Orlando and Rosalind meet and both are struck by Cupid's arrow. Their meeting is brief, but of the kind not to be forgotten.
In due time, Frederick suspects Rosalind of treachery and banishes her from the kingdom. Unwilling to part from her beloved cousin, Celia insists on leaving with her. Fearing two maidens together will not be safe out in the world, they scheme for Rosalind to dress as a young man and play the part of Celia's brother, both using false names. Off they go to the Forest of Arden to find their father and uncle, Duke Senior. For good measure, they bring along Duke Frederick's witty fool Touchstone. Meanwhile, de Bois' faithful old servant Adam warns Orlando to flee Oliver's wrath, and the twoOliver and Adamhead for the Forest of Arden. When Frederick discovers that Celia has left with Rosalind, he suspects they will join with Orlando and rushes to the de Bois estate. Oliver reports that Orlando, too, has fled, to which Frederick commands Oliver to bring his brother back to the court or face dire punishment. So Oliver, too, must enter the Forest of Arden.
The forest is further populated by a variety of shepherds, young men, and maidens. In the course of the play, most of them fall in love, with delightful complications that make the resulting happy couplings feel like a victory over the fates. Most central is the path by which Orlando and Rosalind (disguised as a boy, yet oddly compelling to the unwitting Orlando)finally fall into each other's arms. Aside from true love running its course, we also witness the repair of hearts hardened with cruelty and the balm of forgiveness between the two pairs of brothers.
The cast ably keeps us fully engaged as this motley crew of characters wend their unlikely paths through the forest to the bright light of romantic love. Tarah Flanagan, as Rosalind, and Benjamin Boucvalt, as Orlando, are at the center of the play. One must believe Orlando's impulsive and all-consuming love for Rosalind, and Boucvalt brings out the earnest, true romantic nature of his character. Shakespeare wrote Rosalind as a smart and careful woman. Flanagan, a veteran of GRSF, excels at depicting the alert intelligence that crusts over the passion of wit-endowed heroines such as last year's Beatrice in Much Ado About Nothing and now as Rosalind. In scenes in which Rosalind, in the guise of Celia's brother, tries to "cure" Orlando of his love, the two actors work wonders in conveying both their spoken and unspoken feelings.
Robert Adelman Hancock is a joy as the witty fool Touchstone. Hancock conveys the sharp humor and intelligence by which Touchstone lives while acting the fool. In love, Hancock is delightful as he ascends (or descends, depending on your outlook) from the impulses of lust to the heart and promise of a true romantic. Also especially strong is Michael Fitzpatrick as Jaques, a Lord who is loyal to Duke Senior, but whose melancholy moods keep him from embracing the simple joys of the forest. He arrestingly delivers the immortal "All the world's a stage, and all the men and women merely players" speech, which in describing the seven acts of man, is very melancholy indeed.
De'Onna Prince is a bright and sassy Celia, embodying her pluck in leaving a life of privilege for the uncertainties of the forest. Zach Curtis effectively plays both heartless Duke Ferdinand and his brother, abundantly good-hearted Duke Senior. Stephanie Lambourn is fetchingly simple as Audrey, the object of Touchstone's amorous urges, while Caroline Amos and JuCoby Johnson are adorable as the shepherds Phoebe and Silvius, mismatched in love to great humored effect. Silas Sellnow, though appearing too young to be the eldest brother, earns our scorn early on as mean-spirited Oliver, while Jason Rojas is uproarious as Charles, the pompous royal wrestler, making his few scenes tremendous fun.
Director Carlson has put the entire space within the theater fully to use, with characters enteringsometimes racingup and down aisles, even through the lobby, immersing the audience within the forest. Shakespeare wrote several songs in the play, including the sweetly lyrical "Under the Greenwood Tree." These, along with background music played in certain scenes, add to the pastoral pleasure of the work in lovely performance by cello, violin and guitar. While the design team all fare well, Margaret E. Weedon's costumes stand out. Shakespeare's Arden was in France, but the costumes in this forest are a rainbow-hued array of medieval European states. One costume looks Russian, another Dutch, this one may be Swiss, or is it Slavic? The result is bright and entrancing, a canister of apparel shaken and poured out on the stage to create not a place in history, but in the imagination. These are in stark contrast to the rich and somber costumes in the palace scenes.
As You Like It is not considered to be one of Shakespeare's greatest plays, but it includes some fabulous language, some indelible characters, and a story that, if not packed with profundity, can entertain as it invites us to enjoy the glory of love that hits its mark, the satisfaction of goodness reaping its reward, and the valor to be shown in forgiveness. For a lesser work, not too bad; in this Great River Shakespeare Festival Production, it is pure joy.
Season XIII of the Great River Shakespeare Festival continues through July 31, 2016, at the Performing Arts Center, Winona State University, Winona, MN. Tickets: $30.00 - $50.00. Discount Season Pass for all three Festival shows are available. For performance and other event schedules and tickets call 507-474-7900 or go to GRSF.org.
Writer: William Shakespeare; Director: Doug Scholz-Carlson; Composer: Jack Herrick; Text Coach/Assistant Director: Jess Shoemaker; Scenic Design: R. Eric Stone; Lighting Design: Lonnie Rafael Alcaraz; Costume Design: Margaret E. Weedon; Sound Design: Alex Brock; Sound Design Supervisor: Matthew Tibbs; Props Supervisor: Connor M. McEvoy; Choreographer: Tarah Flanagan; Fight Captain: Zach Curtis; Assistant Costume Design: Caitlyn McCarthy; Production Stage Manager: Daniel Munson; Stage Manager: Lyndsey Harter; Assistant Stage Manager: Patricia Lopez
Cast: Caroline Amos (Phoebe/Lady at Court), Benjamin Boucvalt (Orlando), Zach Curtis (Duke Frederick/Duke Senior), Michael Fitzpatrick (Jaques/Lord at Court), Tarah Flanagan (Rosalind), Robert Adelman Hancock (Touchstone), Blake Henri (2nd Lord/2nd Forester/Musician), JuCoby Johnson (Silvius/Lord at Court), Peter Eli Johnson (Corin/Lord at Court), Ted Kitterman (Dennis/William/Musician/Forester); Stephanie Lambourn (Audrey/Musician), John Maltese (Le Beau/1st Lord/1st Forester), Ana Marcu (Amiens/Hymen/Musician), Mark Murphey (Adam/Oliver Martext), De'Onna Prince (Celia), Jason Rojas (Charles/Jaques de Bois), Eva Scholz-Carlson (Musician), Silas Sellnow (Oliver).