Regional Reviews: Other Regions
As You Like It
Also see Patrick's review of Between Two Knees
It is the Angus Bowmer that is hosting OSF's production of Shakespeare's As You Like It, directed by Rosa Joshi, and judging by the reaction of the people who filled its 601 seats at the performance I attended, they liked the Bard's tale of love and redemption very much indeed. With good reason. For another quality that puts Oregon Shakespeare Festival into the top rank is the excellence of their casts. I first encountered OSF on school outings as a boy, and it was my first exposure to a repertory company where you would see members of a company in different roles in different shows. And so it is here: Sheila Tousey, who is delightful in Between Two Knees, appears here as a court lady and brings a similar world-weary-but-wise flavor to her part, enlarging a small role. James Ryen, whose comic chops are on full display in Between Two Knees, plays Charles, the Duke's wrestler, with a marvelous and droll menace. And I haven't even mentioned the leads, who are so in tune with their scene partners, and bring such a delicate flavor to what can be broad comedy, that a smile rarely left my face.
In an effort to be more inclusive and provide more parts for women, director Joshi has reimagined several of the male characters as women. Duke Senior, the older brother of the usurper Duke Frederick, who is living in exile in the Forest of Arden, is played by Rachel Crowl, and in every moment exudes a sense of love, acceptance and hospitality. The commentaries and asides made by Jacques (Erica Sullivan) take on a slightly different aspect when played by a woman. The shepherd Corin (also played by the wonderful Sheila Tousey) is written as a kindly old man, ready to shelter Rosalind/Ganymede (an hysterical Jessica Ko), but the role feels more organic as a woman.
The staging (designed by Sarah Ryung Clement) is simple: tall panels of fabric, plus a stained glass panel of similar proportion at center stage with a metal ladder of the same height, and a metal framework that includes suspended metal tubing that does double duty as bells. Costumes (Christine Tschirgi) aren't Elizabethan, and not contemporary either, but classic designs rendered mostly (and gorgeously) in a deep ocean blue. Fight choreography by U. Jonathan Toppo is top notch, among the best I've ever seen. Stage fights often look stagey (and therefore a little fake), but Toppo puts the actors in positions that make us feel they are exerting real effort and are truly engaged in physical combat.
Joshi's choreography/blocking also deserves mention, especially in the opening scenes when she moves her actors in solemn marches, intricate enough at times to put one in mind of a college football halftime show. Then, when the action moves from the rules and tradition of the court into the Forest of Arden where life is free and anything seems possible, the movement opens up and is looser and less regimented.
The audience at this performance included a significant number of teenage school groups, and they embraced the show with an enthusiasm that was infectious. When one of the characters threw shade ("Your features? What features?") or delivered a line that could be interpreted to have bawdy undertones ("So you may put a man in your belly!"), they ooh-ed loudly in a way that said "no you di-int!," and erupted in applause at curtain, leading a well-deserved standing ovation.
As You Like It, through October 26, 2019, at the Angus Bowmer Theatre, 20 E Main St., Ashland OR. Check the calendar at www.osfashland.org for specific dates and times. Ticket are $39.10-$155 and can be purchased at the same website.