Rosalind, Robert Walker Macbeth, 1888
As You Like It
By William Shakespeare
Directed by Charlie Sexton
Review by Keith Waits
Entire contents are copyright © 2014 Keith Waits. All rights reserved.
As You Like It is an ever-popular comedy from the Shakespeare canon, filled with romance, humor, trademark gender swapping confusion and a saturnine character delivering one of the Bard’s most famous speeches. It also features perhaps the strongest, most interesting female character in any of his plays: Rosalind.
In a terrific performance that carries the burden of the show, Rebecca Willenbrink brings Rosalind to life with a restless eye for mischief that is given full flower once she wanders the forest in disguise as a man. She is the daughter of the exiled Duke Senior and is exiled herself when she annoys the usurping Duke Frederick, her uncle. Her idyll masquerading as a man in the forest of Arden and drawing the amorous attentions of both sexes is classic narrative contrivance for Shakespeare.
We don’t see Ms. Willenbrink act so much as we see her think, and the crucial difference is vital to the success of this production. There is also fine work from Abby Kass as Touchstone, the court fool who accompanies Rosalind and her friend Celia into exile. Yet as bright and fluid as she is in her delivery, the performance never seems to earn enough laughs to satisfy. Other strong turns arrive from Jordan Lee as Phoebe, the love sick shepherdess, and Audrey, a country girl of questionable virtue. It seems right that the women might dominate this play, although Travis Ryan does a respectable job with the melancholy Jacques, who is given that speech, the one many people know who have never read or seen this play. It begins on a light note that challenges our pretentious self-importance:
All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players:
They have their exits and entrances;
And one man in his time plays many parts,
Finishing with pessimistic acceptance:
Last scene of all,
That ends this strange eventful history,
Is second childishness and mere oblivion,
Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.
Familiarity cannot diminish such language! Aaron Roitman’s Orlando is a solid romantic foil for Ms. Willenbrink, and his quality of callow boyishness serves to reinforce her authority. DJ Nash and Chase Bishop also provide estimable support, but otherwise much of the dialogue is made lucid but given an indifferent delivery, grounding the action when it might soar. Things work much better in the second act, when love and confusion reign and we witness our heroine single-handedly manage one of Shakespeare’s most appealing happy endings.
The pastoral setting is beautifully evoked in the design work, with strong colors and rough, sturdy fabrics in Laura Patterson’s costumes, and simple but effective use of foliage once the characters have moved into the forest.
As You Like It, running in repertory with Richard II and Pericles
as part of the Young American Shakespeare Festival
May 16-17-18 at 7:30
May 10 -11 at 2:00
The Nancy Niles Sexton Theatre
1123 Payne Street
Louisville, Kentucky 40204