SALT LAKE CITY — For most of Shakespeare‘s career, his acting company played in outdoor theaters such as the Theatre, the Curtain, and—most famously—the Globe. Even when they weren’t performing in the O-shaped London theaters, Shakespeare’s company sometimes toured the countryside (especially when outbreaks of the plague closed the theaters in London), probably performing in the yards of inns and other open public spaces. These open-air facilities would have provided ample light for the play and flexible staging required by Shakespeare’s work. Although his company later bought a indoor playhouse (the Blackfriars Theatre), it’s an established fact that most of Shakespeare’s plays were originally written to be performed outdoors. Perhaps that’s why Such Stuff Productions’s As You Like It seemed to fit snugly in the amphitheater on the campus of Westminster College.
As You Like It is the tale of Orlando, the son of a disgraced knight, who is expelled from the court of the usurper Duke Frederick. Orlando flees to the forest of Arden where the rightful ruler, Duke Senior, is in exile. Unknown to Orlando, his love, Duke Senior’s daughter named Rosalind, follows him to the forest after also being kicked out of the court. This being a Shakespearean comedy, Rosalind feels compelled to disguise herself as a boy while in the forest. Hijinks and subplots ensue and, of course, a happy ending finishes off the story.
Mandi Titcomb served as director of this production, and I must say that I am generally pleased with her work. Titcomb created a rather traditional staging of a Shakespearean comedy, which made the production nicely enjoyable. She filled the scenes with little bits of stage business (such as when Touchstone entered a scene comically carrying Celia or when Orlando is late for his meeting with Rosalind), which both served to entertain and illuminate the meaning of the text. I also thought that Titcomb’s stage picture for the wrestling scene in Act I was gorgeous. Titcomb also had her cast nicely blur the line between the audience’s seating space and the performing space. This kept the action interesting and helped create boundaries between groups of characters that were sometimes visible to the audience, but were supposed to be in different places.
However, I don’t believe that Titcomb made this production has funny as a Shakespearean comedy should be. There were very few moments in the show that made me laugh out loud, which disappointed me greatly. I felt that Titcomb concentrated more on the relationships among the characters and meaning of the text while neglecting the humor.
Titcomb was helped in her efforts by some talented actors, especially Ebrahim Ghaeini, who played Orlando. Ghaeini always seemed to have an extremely clear understanding of the words he was saying and—more importantly—what they meant to his character. Ghaeini’s Orlando was also very sympathetic in his yearnings for Rosalind and his concern over his broken relationship with his older brother, Oliver. I also adored Ghaeini’s trepidation in the faux marriage scene in the latter part of the play. Ghaeini was entertaining opposite Kate Mikell, who played Rosalind. He and Mikell have a warm chemistry that made their characters’ emotions in the “love at first sight” scene seem less like the literary cliché that it is today. I also enjoyed the repartee between the two actors in the famous scene where Rosalind discovers the poems about her that Orlando has left on the nearby trees. But even on her own, Mikell’s Rosalind was intelligent, wise, and meticulous in her plans, which reminded me of one of Shakespeare’s most clever female characters, Portia (from The Merchant of Venice). However, I wish that Mikell had demonstrated more acting changes when her character was disguised as a boy; for much of the middle of the play I couldn’t distinguish between “Ganymede” and Rosalind.
Adam Price demonstrated a great deal of verbal dexterity in the role of the clown Touchstone in speeches such as the types of deception and the pancake speech. He was handled some of the aspects of a clown well (especially the juggling). But I never found Price as funny as I believe Touchstone and similar Shakespearean clowns (e.g., the younger shepherd in A Winter’s Tale, or Launce in Two Gentlemen of Verona) should be. This may not be entirely Price’s fault, due to the general lack of humor in the production. On the other hand, I entirely appreciated the performance of Amy Ware as Rosalind’s steadfast friend (and Duke Frederick’s daughter), Celia. As played by Ware, Celia had a deep, genuine friendship with Rosalind, which made her decision to follow Rosalind into the forest at great personal cost seem understandable.
Other less prominent cast members made important contributions, like Tyler Emeney, who was a regal and dignified Duke Frederick. Also, Grace Carlson was charming as the shepherdess Phebe, who couldn’t contain her disdain for the lovestruck shepherd Silvius. However, I found Niklaas Duncan‘s accents for his characters (Charles and Duke Senior) distracting.
Finally, I thought some cast members were too young for their roles. This last issue might be because the purpose of this production was to raise funds to provide financial support for high school and college theatre students’ education. It’s possible that casting high school students in this play was another effort to further young actors’ training. If this is the case, then I don’t begrudge Titcomb for having some older teenagers in the cast, because it strengthens the mission of the company. And even though I found some actors to be too young for the parts they were playing, I was pleasantly surprised at how well high school and college actors worked together in a cast. I had never seen such a mix of performers and I have to admit that generally it worked better than I would have expected.
Aimee Green and Aunali Davis’s costume designs added to the pleasant ambiance of the outdoor amphitheater. The costumes of Duke Frederick’s court in the first act were sufficiently opulent for the setting without being overly distracting. The contrast that these presented with the simplicity and drabness of the rural characters’ costumes was noticeable and constantly reminded me of the class differences that existed between the two groups of characters. On the other hand, this contrast was not very clear for the musicians; I was often confused about whether they were exiled with Duke Senior, or whether they were part of the rural bucolic ambiance of the forest of Arden.
But the musicians themselves (under the music direction of Mikell) were an aspect of the show that added dimension and liveliness to this production. The songs were pleasant, and the “Mummer’s Dance” was the hit of the evening. Even though As You Like It has more songs than any other Shakespeare play, I would have been tempted to cut all the music if I were directing. I’m glad that Titcomb instead embraced the music that peppers the script.
Such Stuff Production’s As You Like It isn’t a flashy, showy Shakespeare production, nor is it as funny as many productions of the Bard’s comedies that I’ve seen in northern Utah. But with its nice direction, pleasant music, and commendable acting, As You Like It has much to its credit. Plus, it’s outdoors, which is how Shakespeare intended this play to be performed. If he could see this production, he would likely see other aspects that are in keeping with his wishes.