Great Lakes Theater’s ‘As You like It’ is a wonderful adventure for all
During Shakespeare's time, the affluent (royal and connected) members of society had different views of social structure. You could be a member of “the court” or if you managed to become disfavored you would be banished to the forest (wilderness). In modern parlance it meant that you were sent out to the farm land where you rubbed elbows with the common folk with their rough clothing and manners far from the silk finery and polite existence of your previous life. This fall from grace is the central theme of Shakespeare’s romantic comedy “As You Like it” now on stage in the Hanna Theatre at Playhouse Square in Cleveland, Ohio.
Oliver (Jonathan Dyrud), the eldest son, had promised his dying father to take care of his younger brother, Orlando (Nick Steen), but Oliver now refuses to pay the annual inheritance and instead has Orlando reduced to a working peasant status. When Orlando makes plans to wrestle Charles (Jerrell Williams) a traveling professional wrestler arriving at Duke Frederick’s Court for a prize, Oliver convinces Charles to injure and possibly kill his sibling.
Prior to this, Duke Frederick (David Anthony Smith) had usurped (stolen) the duchy (property and wealth) and exiled his older brother, Duke Senior (David Anthony Smith) to the Forest of Arden where he now lives in primitive splendor with a group of his supporters. However, Duke Senior’s daughter, Rosalind (Jodi Dominick) has been allowed to remain at court due to her friendship with Duke Frederick’s daughter, Celia (Mandie Jenson).
The wrestling match takes place with Orlando winning and also meeting Rosalind. They fall for each other. Duke Frederick refuses to give Orlando his rightful winnings for the match and Orlando is banished (guess where) to the forest. Rosalind speaks up for Orlando and she is banished also but Celia decides to join her along with Touchstone (Maggie Kettering) the court fool. Rosalind disguises herself as a man and Celia as a poor woman.
Rosalind takes on the name Ganymede and Celia becomes Aliena. While traveling the countryside they meet a shepherd tenant, Corin (M.A. Taylor) and offer to purchase the man’s cottage. Meanwhile, Orlando and his friend and servant, Adam (M.A. Taylor), are lost and out of food. They happen upon Duke Senior and his band who offer the two what food and hospitality they are able. Among the group is Jaques (Lynn Robert Berg) who lives a discontented life weeping over the killing of a deer.
Orlando pines over Rosalind penning love sonnets in her honor and posting them in the branches of a nearby tree. Rosalind and Celia find and join Duke Senior’s group but disguised as a man Rosalind has to keep her passions for Orlando in check. In short order shepherdess Phebe (Angela Utrera) falls in love with Ganymede (the disguised Rosalind) while Sylvias (Joe Wegner) falls for Phebe. Orlando and Rosalind pine for each other. Touchstone falls in love with Aubrey (Michael Burns) a goat herder and Oliver eventually falls in love with Celia.
Everything about this production is top notch from the Edwardian costuming to the court clothing, the subdued country dress all by Kim Krumm Sorenson, the spacious stage set, beautiful back drops, airy lighting all by Rick Martin and superb sound Matthew Webb. The acting from all involved is superb as well. Lynn Robert Berg as Jaques gives one of the most profound readings of “All the world is a stage...”. The stage set (it should be noted) features a hill that some of the actors take great delight sliding down. The show is expertly directed by Charles Fee.
This show truly has it all (even singing). Even if this is your first exposure to a Shakespearean production you will find it a delightful easy to follow story of romance, intrigue, mistaken identities and witty dialogue. It is Shakespeare done right.
The Great Lakes Theater’s production of “As You Like It” will be on stage in the Hanna Theatre, 2067 E. 14th Street, Cleveland, Ohio, on Playhouse Square through April 8, 2023. For more information and tickets go to https://www.greatlakestheater.org/ or call (216) 241-6000.