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Review: ‘As You Like It’ at The Pennsylvania Shakespeare Festival

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Like all of Shakespeare’s plays, As You Like It is filled with rich, quotable language. (This is the one with the “All the world’s a stage” speech.) But Pennsylvania Shakespeare Festival’s new production reminds us that there’s more than famous words here: this production is filled with music, wit, and a rambunctious spirit. It’s a play about love that radiates love – and it’s a production that’s very easy to love.

Marnie Schulenburg, Zack Robidas, and Stella Baker. Photo by Lee A. Butz.

Marnie Schulenburg, Zack Robidas, and Stella Baker. Photo by Lee A. Butz.

Director Matt Pfeiffer sets the right mood early on in this tale of Rosalind and Orlando, “true lovers [who] run into strange capers.” Marnie Schulenberg’s Rosalind may speak in flowery language, but when she first sees Zack Robidas’ Orlando stretching for a wrestling match, she pauses to ogle him. When he returns her gaze, we can see the attraction is mutual. Orlando, not sure how to react, hands Rosalind his sweaty, stinky shirt. She’s ecstatic. (Go figure.) And we’re off.

Robidas is an engaging presence, but it’s Schulenberg who drives this production. Her Rosalind blends elegance, warmth, and a fine command of the language. When Rosalind gets banished from the royal court, disguises herself as a boy and hides in the forest, Schulenberg’s playful and flirtatious manner sets the tone that the rest of the production follows.

Pfeiffer focuses so much on the central romance that he doesn’t give all of the supporting characters the attention they deserve. Still, many of the actors in these roles make good impressions. They include Stella Baker as Rosalind’s cousin Celia, who watches a flirtation between Orlando and a disguised Rosalind with a wary eye, and Esau Pritchett, who plays two royal rulers – one kind, one menacing – with clear-cut attitudes. As Jaques, that “melancholy fellow,” Ian Merrill Peakes gives his big speech the proper gravity, but he also adds some opportune humor at key moments.

The ensemble of As You Like It. Photo by Lee A. Butz.

The ensemble of As You Like It. Photo by Lee A. Butz.

It’s the many humorous moments that make this As You Like It stand out. Kelsey Rainwater, Sean Patrick Higgins and Ilia Paulino, as a trio of forest dwellers, make the most of their comedy scenes, and Dan Hodge’s court jester is a model of invention, especially during his interactions with audience members. (He adds a few modern references, but they’ll make you laugh and won’t take you out of the story.)

Devon Painter’s costumes help to tell the story in inventive ways: members of the royal court are dressed mostly in black, while characters wear softer colors the further away they are from royalty. Subtly, the costumes illustrate the class divide in Shakespeare’s world. (Dan Hodge’s jester, who straddles both high and low class, wears a witty half black/ half white ensemble.)

As You Like It is being performed in repertory with The Three Musketeers – and not only do the two shows share a cast, they also share some of the same technical staff. Brian Sidney Bembridge’s set uses the same backdrop from Musketeers, but the stage this time is filled with wooden poles, topped by upside-down cones, that function as trees for the Forest of Arden. Masha Tsimring’s lighting returns here, as does Christian Kelly-Sordelet’s fight choreography (though it’s not used nearly as much as it is in Musketeers).

Shakespeare wrote a number of songs for As You Like It, and while we hear the lyrics here, they’re set to appealing new melodies by Alex Bechtel and sung with gusto by Alexander Sovronsky. He’s backed by ensemble members on a variety of acoustic instruments, including guitar, mandolin, ukulele, and even saxophone. Most of the arrangements have a gentle pastoral feel, but occasionally a cast member beats on a wooden box, giving the music a driving rhythm that pushes it into Mumford & Sons territory.

It’s music that will make you smile – just like so much of this production will.

Running Time: Two hours and 45 minutes, including an intermission.

As You Like It - Pennsylvania Shakespeare Festival

As You Like It plays through Sunday, August 6, 2017, at the Pennsylvania Shakespeare Festival, Schubert Theater – 2755 Station Avenue, in Center Valley, PA, on the Campus of DeSales University. For tickets, call (610) 282-WILL, or purchase them online.

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