Sunday, April 6, 2014

As You Like It, Great Lakes Theatre

(David Anthony Smith as Jaques and Torsten Johnson as Orlando)

If you are seeking a balm from this past horrendous Winter we’ve all barely survived, listen up. If your soul aches from hearing storm warnings and shoveling wet snow and cowering from the next polar vortex, pay attention. If you are worn out and in need of comfort and a laugh or 20…Great Lakes Theater has just the prescription.

Their production of As You Like It, directed with wit and snap by Edward Morgan, is a simply glorious romp that lands in C-town at the perfect moment. You needn’t wait until May 2nd for the world’s largest outdoor chandelier to light up, down the street—this play will dazzle PlayhouseSquare for the next two weeks. And you’re a bigger fool than Touchstone if you don’t samples its many delights.

This version features a brilliant updating by Morgan, setting the play in New England during the Scott Joplin era. This brings in a couple tunes of the time (“I Don’t Care”) as well as a barber shop quartet at the top of Act Two.

Betsy Mugavero as a feisty Rosalind begins as a Gibson Girl and then evolves into a Suffragette. Trying to avoid the heavy hand of Duke Frederick, the threatened Rosalind and her gal pal Celia (Christine Weber) dash off to the Arden Forest where Roz, disguised as the courtly dude Ganymede, sort of/kind of seduces her heartthrob Orlando (Torsten Johnson).

They are accompanied into the safe embrace of the forest by Touchstone, a clown whose verbal and physical hijinks are maximized at every opportunity by the relentless Dustin Tucker. Fortunately, he is quite funny most of the time, otherwise he would become a serious irritant. And his lustful pursuit of the goat-herd Audrey is both desperate and hilarious.

The preternaturally morose Jaques is played by David Anthony Smith, which means this downer of a character is actually one of the funnier folks on stage. Once again, Smith works his magic, turning Jaques’ classic line: “I can suck melancholy out of a song as a weasel sucks eggs” into a signature laugh line. And he adds so much contour to the “Seven Ages” speech that it seems almost fresh to the ear.

Then there is Silvius (Joan Rivera Lebron) who is pursuing the much-disinterested and plain-looking Phoebe, given a wonderful turn by Jodi Dominick. When Rosalind advises her to “sell when you can, you’re not for all markets,” the comment is made funnier thanks to Dominick’s dour mien.

Indeed, there are no weak parts in this production, and the neatly efficient set designed by Russell Metheny—starting with Industrial Age rusted metal and changing to a dark and welcoming glade of trees—allows the flow of the show to sweep the audience along.

So put away your chemical hand warmers, pry yourself out of the La-Z-Boy imprinted with your body shape, and welcome Spring with As You Like It. You’ll love it.

As You Like It
Through April 19, produced by Great Lakes Theater at the Hanna Theatre, 2067 E. 14th Street, PlayhouseSquare.

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