Review: ‘As You Like It’ at Centerstage

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Embarking on a $32 million, year-long renovation project that features major renovations to Centerstage’s two-stage complex while adding a new 99-seat theater, the last two shows of its season are being staged at Towson University’s Center for the Arts where award-winning director Wendy C. Goldberg stylishly revitalizes Shakespeare’s As You Like It, turning the Elizabethan tradition of all-male casts on its head by featuring an all-female company of actors.

Sofia Jean Gomez and Julia Coffee. Photo by Richard Anderson.

Sofia Jean Gomez and Julia Coffee. Photo by Richard Anderson.

Inventively staged, Associate Artistic Director Gavin Witt, Costume Designer Anne Kennedy (her dress of the actors in high-fashion black is particularly effective), and Scenic Designer Arnulfo Maldonado team up to whimsically energize the 400-year-old script, showcasing haute couture and counter culture, as Shakespeare’s beloved comedy of romance and mistaken identity transition from the angular world of the Court to the bohemian renegades in the Forest of Arden.

“Working on our fresh take with Wendy and this incredible company of women has offered daily discoveries,” said Witt, who has newly adapted Centerstage’s As You Like It as the production’s dramaturg. “As You Like It is hilarious and insightful, and has a youthful, rebellious energy that fits perfectly with our residency at Towson University.”

Witt’s adaptation strategically streamlines the script and sorts out the scenes, as the austere Court settings, for instance, are congregated at the beginning and never revisited again.

Standouts in the 18-person cast production, which include six Towson University theater students in ensemble roles, are Julia Coffey as Rosalind and Sofia Jean Gomez as Orlando. Both start out complicated and cool, but become irrepressibly idyllic in love. They set the revolving pace and romantic milieu for the show’s three other amorous couples.

Julia Coffee and Sofia Jean Gomez. Photo by Richard Anderson.

Julia Coffee and Sofia Jean Gomez. Photo by Richard Anderson.

Likewise, Mattie Hawkinson, as the fashionable-forward and feminine Celia, stuns with a gorgeous Balenciaga-inspired bi-level evening gown as Rosalind’s loyal sidekick and banter primer. Similarly, Angela Reed is memorable as melancholy Jaques, a swaying stoner in dreadlocks, dolefully delivering the “Seven Ages of Man” speech.

Endearingly eccentric, richly textured and vibrantly hip, Centerstage’s As You Like It impresses with its engaging settings, transformational theatricality and exuberant playfulness, breathing innovative life into Shakespeare’s gender-bending piece.

Running Time: Approximately two hours, with a 15-minute intermission.

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As You Like It plays through February 14, 2016 at Centerstage performing at Towson University’s Mainstage Theatre — 1 Fine Arts Drive, in Towson, MD. For tickets, call the box office at (410) 332-0033, or purchase them online.

RATING: FIVE-STARS-82x1555.gif

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