Let Snowzilla 2016 do its worst. We’ve got sunshine right here in Charm City, where the pure magic of director Wendy C. Goldberg’s production of As You Like It stirs the summer of love inside us.
During much-needed renovations, Center Stage is camped out for the rest of the season at the Fine Arts Center at Towson University. Fear not—it is a spacious and welcoming facility, although theater staff could have been a bit more helpful to the patrons wandering the halls and looking for an elevator instead of waiting for everyone to show up in the lobby.
Once you’re seated, prepare to be transported. This is a modern, fast-moving As You Like It, thanks to Gavin Witt’s artfully pruned adaptation and Goldberg’s breezy artistry.
It also features an all-female cast. Lest you suspect gimmickry, be assured that after a few moments, the members gender becomes immaterial as the women melt into their roles to become creatures possessed of feminine strength and masculine sensitivities—a heady combination if there ever was one. They embody a brave new world with such people in it.
Shakespeare’s gender-blending romantic comedy begins with a dance sequence on a couture runway as the performers strike a pose in chic, black court garb. The synchronized, choppy moves speak to the regimen of Duke Frederick’s court (Celeste Den, mean as the Duke, yet as mellow as the month of May playing a shepherd later on.)
At least his daughter Celia (Mattie Hawkinson, sweet and loyal) gets to have fun with her clothes—a Balenciaga-inspired bi-level evening gown with a fabulous underskirt of flapping black feathers (by costume designer Anne Kennedy). In contrast, her cousin and BFF Rosalind (Julia Coffey, serious and clever) wears a Grace Kelly-like tailored gown, as would befit her circumstances and temperament.
The Duke has banished her father Duke Senior (a vigorous and compassionate Margaret Daly) and soon he sends Rosalind packing—with Celia at her heels as they flee for the forest of Arden, Rosalind disguised as a boy named Ganymede. They “go to liberty, not banishment!” along with their courtier Touchstone (the debonair Charlotte Booker), who admits liking the court’s aristocratic comforts over the rustic life, but goes along anyway.
Speaking of hair-trigger tempers, mean brother Oliver (a brash and impetuous Tia Shearer) is jealous of his knightly younger brother Orlando (Sofia Jean Gomez, gallant and scrappy as a young man, albeit one who flips his hair with Justin Bieber cool), who also flees to Arden to escape his brother’s wrath. Before Rosalind and Orlando became outcasts, they meet briefly at court and fell instantly in lust, er, love.
So there we have it—Shakespeare’s classic plot devices of mistaken identity, flipped gender roles, lovers in exile and power-grabs.Not to mention abundant comedy and romance. In the second part, the action shifts to the forest of Arden with pretty, slender trees coming down from the ceiling (Arnulfo’s sylvan set is enhanced by Josh Epstein’s sun-splattered forest lighting) as a bunch of granola-munching boho girls straight out of the Michigan Womyn’s Festival come dancing in, singing “Under the greenwood tree…” in winsome harmony as they set up pop-up tents and lawn chairs. With their hunting, singing and merriment they resemble the Bacchantes in their Dionysian revelries.
Duke Senior’s court in exile is groovy, full of food, music, song and acceptance. It is here that Jaques (Angela Reed, who gives this Debbie Downer depth and melancholy humor) delivers the famous “All the World’s A Stage” speech with the naturalness and articulate ease of a great tale told around the campfire.
AS YOU LIKE IT
January 15 – February 14, 2016
at Mainstage Theatre
1 Fine Arts Drive
Towson, MD 21212
2 hours, 20 minutes with 1 intermission
Wednesdays thru Sundays
Tickets: $10 – $59
It is in Arden that the production finds its happy place, in both the Duke’s court and in Rosalind and Celia’s separate camp, where Celia has adopted a perky, Sarah Jessica Parker from “Sex in the City” fashion sense and spunk and Rosalind has taken to playing a man with an enthusiasm that shocks and thrills her. And there are even more thrills when, as Ganymede, she instructs Orlando in the art of wooing his Rosalind.
There is breezy music that puts the hip-hop in “hey, nonny-nonny” and all sorts of love entanglements that are frisky instead of fatal. There are just many perfect, witty touches that show a female sensibility—the members of Duke Senior’s court all munch on good snacks, the hippie-chic clothes, the cute boys and knowing girls. One example of this sense of playfulness has Audrey (Julia Brandeberry, delicious as someone who looks like a Phish-following airhead but is much smarter than you think) making her entrance with lover Touchstone riding him like a little pony.
Rosalind and Celia have that balanced back-and-forth rhythm of true best friends, the yin to the other’s yang. And in love, they equally fall hard but keep their heads. And their love scenes, like all the others in this production—are pure magic. You don’t think about gender, just the magnetism that draws in two eager people.
This As You Like It is just so sexy, romantic and fun it’s like your best first date ever.
As You Like It by William Shakespeare. Adapted by Gavin Witt . Director: Wendy C. Goldberg . Featuring Charlotte Booker, Julia Brandeberry, Julia Coffey, Liz Daingerfield, Margaret Daly, Celeste Den, Tracey Farrar, Sofia Jean Gomez, Mattie Hawkinson, Angela Reed, Jenna Rossman, Tia Shearer . Adapter/Production Dramaturg: Arnulfo Maldonado . Costumer Designer: Anne Kennedy . Lighting Designer: Josh Epstein . Sound Designer: Matt Hubbs . Choreographer: Karma Camp . Fight Choreographer: Cliff Williams III . Music Director: Heather Christian . Assistant Director: Elissa Goetschius. Produced by Center Stage . Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard.