Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: St. Louis

As You Like It
St. Louis Shakespeare Festival
Review by Richard T. Green

Also see Richard's recent review of We All Fall Down

(front) Christian Thompson, Wali Jamal;
(rear) Jasmine Cheri Rush, Caroline Amos

Photo by Phillip Hamer Photography
Is there something wrong with the way we love, these days?

Four hundred years after William Shakespeare's time, watching his As You Like It at the St. Louis Shakespeare Festival is like putting on a new pair of corrective eyeglasses for the very first time. The heart sees afresh, thanks to a sharp new production of this comically misguided love story in Forest Park, under the easy-to-follow direction of Nancy Bell.

Of course you can just sit back and enjoy it, for two and a half hours. Three and a half, in my case, including an hour-long rain delay before the show. But, "sweet are the uses of adversity," as the duchess (the always-excellent Michelle Hand) says, after being banished into the forest of Arden along with her ladies. And sweet is this production, perhaps even more so after the adversity of the rain: the air was clear, the bugs gone (they're always up around the stage lighting towers, but not common outdoors here), and the show is a sparkling riot of nonsense–all in the name of love on its own ornate storybook set designed by Scott C. Neale, which is revealed halfway into Act One.

There's also warm, twangy folk music, written (and performed live on stage) by Beth Bombara, backed up by her accompanists, to bolster a mood that's both rueful and gregarious. But if you can focus on the language, even just now and then, you realize that Shakespeare was trying to tell us all the basic things that love could be, and should be. And must be, to survive.

The play focuses on one of the banished ladies, Rosalind (spiffy Caroline Amos), who later plays the roguish Ganymede, herself. She's thrown together with Orlando (smoldering Christian Thompson) but wants to get a better sense of him by donning a masculine disguise before they embark upon a relationship. I mean, Shakespeare probably is not endorsing stalking, exactly ... Much later, in the final scenes, Rosalind choreographs a huge, multi-couple wedding, like a clever card trick or a Broadway musical dance number. At least, that's the way it plays out in my mind, with some degree of amazement. They don't actually sing and dance.

She's first smitten with Orlando after seeing him in a sort of WWF smack-down, where he's pitted against the giant Lenny Mephisto as Charles. Their visceral, knock-down, drag-out fight scene is choreographed by Rachel Flesher, with help from Mr. Mephisto and from Greg Cuellar, the show's fight captain, who also plays Orlando's corrupt brother Oliver. (A deadly conspiracy before the combat further tarnishes Oliver's reputation.) Joel Moses is great as the wicked duke, who triggers all the action.

It's so weird, though, because nobody on stage is looking at a cell phone the whole time. People actually have to deal with each other face to face. If you can imagine.

It's not that they're all as smart as Shakespeare. But they bash their reasoning skills together to come to some kind of understanding, and no grudge is left to fester. Jasmine Cheri Rush is delightful as Rosalind's pal Celia; and Wali Jamal (as Jaques) got a nice round of applause for his "All the world's a stage" speech. Ricki Franklin is very funny as Touchstone the fool, showing a great control of her share of the comedy.

Bianca Sanborn gives us an artfully dimwitted character (Audrey), but also lots of comical dancing and poses in Act Two (the choreography is by Sam Gaitsch). She's one of the farm girls who populate the stage. And Molly Wennstrom is perfect as another milkmaid, Phoebe, full of presumptions and ideals and declarations.

CB Brown is very good as her lovelorn shadow, Silvius; and Kathryn A. Bentley easily makes sense of the 400 year-old dialog (primarily) as Corin, another shepherd. Joneal Joplin is touching as Adam, Orlando's aged servant. And Isaiah Henry brings simple, genuine warmth to the surrounding, aphrodisiacal landscape, as William.

One of the "sweet uses of adversity" during the rain delay came when the gentleman next to me put forth the idea that Shakespeare's plays are meant to be seen as a series of magical, reflective little moments–contrary to our very pace-conscious, linear understanding of plot today. But this show works on both tracks, in parallel: the magical, romantic old moments are there; and the straight-ahead, funny new ones, too.

If you take a minute and get reservations, at no charge, you can bring a bottle of wine, and a blanket to sit on, down front or around the rows of plastic chairs in the middle of the glen. But if you reserve a spot on the lawn, you can bring your dog. Or even your kids! Or pay for chairs to sit on during the show. There's a hot dog stand up by the east parking lot, offering St. Louis or Chicago style dawgs, which features a vegetarian option.

It was beautiful out after the rain this particular night. But even on the hottest evenings, it frequently turns very chilly after dark, especially down front, with the big reflecting pool and a Forest Park lagoon spreading out around Shakespeare Glen, below the St. Louis Art Museum.

"Bring a wrap!" as the late sportscaster Mike Shannon used to say, to help stay warm.

As You Like It runs through June 23, 2024, at St. Louis Shakespeare Festival, Shakespeare Glen, 6604 Fine Arts Dr, St. Louis, MO. For seat tickets or lawn reservations, and more information, please visit

Cast (alphabetically):
Rosalind/Ganymede: Caroline Amos*
LeBeau/Corin: Kathryn A. Bentley*
Amiens: Beth Bombara
Sylvius/Ensemble: CB Brown
Young Lady/Ensemble: Riley Carter Adams
Oliver: Greg Cuellar*
Touchstone: Ricki Franklin
Duchess Senior: Michelle Hand*
William/Ensemble: Isaiah Henry
Jacques: Wali Jamal*
Adam: Joneal Joplin*
Charles: Lenny Mephisto
Duke Frederick: Joel Moses
Celia: Jasmine Cheri Rush
Audrey/Ensemble: Bianca Sanborn
Orlando: Christian Thompson*
Phoebe/Ensemble: Molly Wennstrom

Guitar, Vocals, Composer: Beth Bombara
Viola/Mandolin: Sam Golden
Percussion: Jeremy Reidy

Production Staff:
Director: Nancy Bell
Scenic Design: Scott C. Neale
Costume Design: Dottie Marshall Englis
Costume Shop Manager: Michele Friedman Siler
Music Director and Composer: Beth Bombara
Lighting Designer: Denisse Chavez
Producer: Colin O'Brien
Artistic Producer: Delaney Piggins
Stage Manager: Sarah Luedloff*
Choreographer: Sam Gaitsch
Props Manager: Taylor Laine Abs
Intimacy & Fight Choreographer: Rachel Flesher
Casting: Claire Simon, CSA
Assistant Stage Manager: Britteny Henry*

* Denotes Member, Actors' Equity Association

Additional Production Staff:
Associate Production Manager: Bobby Julgla
Production Assistant: Josh Van Hoorebeke
Company Manager: Susan Rowe Jennings
Livestock Helper: Fiona Carton
House Manager: Kaitlyn Kelly
Box Office Manager: Megan Gooch
Switch Technical Director: Matt Anderson
Assistant Technical Director: Tim Matejka
Scenic Artist: Andy Cross**
Scenic Build Coordinator: Lori Beth Augustin
Scenic Design Assistant: Lily Tomasic
Costume Design Assistant/Dresser: Ariana Lapentti
Lighting Design Assistant: Joseph Hansen
Sound Design Assistant: Maddy Chatham
Production Assistants: Frankie Ferrari, De'Janna Scales-Hand
Draper: Zahrah M. Agha
Wardrobe Supervisor: Oliva Radle
First Hand: Carole Tucker
Stitcher/Dresser: Indigo Amunategui
Stitcher: Bekah Williams
Crafts: Raegan Calvert
Master Electrician: John Ryan***
Follow Spots: Veronica McKelvie, Dirk Wentz
Electricians: Levi Cain, John Campise, Kara Walton
Sound Engineer: Casey Hunter***
Sound Consultant: Ann Slayton
Sound Effects Board Operator: Parker Thompson
Audio Assistants: Aislyn Morrow, Suzann Fulbright
AEA Business Representative: Aaron Wheeler

** Denotes Member, USA Local 820, IATSE

*** Denotes Member, IATSE Local #6