Review: ‘As You Like It’ by Brave Spirits Theatre

Ah, Shakespeare’s As You Like It–the ultimate romantic comedy about people trying to find their way to love in a bewildering world; a world that seems to have no rules, or rules that are made as one goes along.

Farrell Parker as Rosalind and Rebecca Speas as Celia in Brave Spirits Theatre's production of 'As You Like It.' Photo by Claire Kimball.
Farrell Parker as Rosalind and Rebecca Speas as Celia in Brave Spirits Theatre’s production of ‘As You Like It.’ Photo by Claire Kimball.

Brave Spirits Theatre presents a rewarding rendering of Shakespeare’s oft-produced As You Like It. Under the engaging direction of Jessica Aimone, Brave Spirits’ production provides characters and couples who often can be found in the dimmer light of the background with an opportunity to shine in the spotlight. This is an egalitarian touch that does not take away from the main characters’ journey on their way to find true love and marriage. Aimone adds another dash of power-sharing; the show opens as if at a wedding party with guests (the audience) and the cast meeting and greeting one another to break the ice.

Further adding to the overall appeal of Brave Spirits’ As You Like It, Aimone as lyricist and Zach Roberts (music director, composer, and keyboard) jettison previous traditional songs, replacing them with about ten original contemporary numbers. The new musical numbers provide characters the opportunity to show not only vocal talents but provide an adroit few bars of song that present a smart look into a character’s being. The songs run from melancholy guitar-driven folk style, to pop love ballads about trying to find love (“I am broken without you”), a comic little Gilbert and Sullivan-like rhyming ditty, and several comic spots that hit your reviewer’s ear with a “this is just so right” tones.

For those less familiar with Shakespeare’s As You Like It, is a vision about love and marriage centered on characters who have to escape the evil clutches of Duke Frederick (a sneering Ian Blackwell Rogers) and his stiff-necked minions. Those who flee find their way to the Forest of Arden. There in Arden, four couples begin to take shape after some setbacks and major shocks. The four couples do what couples often do; they squabble, they tease, they test, they quarrel, they come close and then back off, but ultimately find love. Some couplings seem destined, others much less so.

As You Like It’s central characters and couples include Rosalind, played by a confident and poised (except for one swoon) Farrell Parker. Rosalind is often disguised as a young man to protect herself from evildoers. She finds herself quite smitten with Orlando, played by Ben Peters in a keen performance of man finding his decency and concern for others. Orlando becomes lovestruck with Rosalind from their first encounter.

The other characters, on their way to becoming three couples, include shepherd Silvius, played by Daniel Westbrook as an earnest man with his eyes and heart set on a shepherdess named Phoebe who does not return his infatuation. (Westbrook’s Silvius, though persistent, is not a creepy stalker.) Phoebe is portrayed by Amber A. Gibson, who is so sure of herself until the Bard undoes her sense of who she thinks she loves. There is a motley fool of a jester named Touchstone, played by Jared H. Graham, who is verbally skilled with comic patter and can tumble too. Mackenzie Larsen, as shepherdess Audrey, presents incredible stage presence just by silently playing with her hair and then later singing a short number with the lines “I am not dumb, they don’t see what’s inside of me.” The fourth couple is Celia, a loyal confidante of Rosalind, played by Rebecca Speas with a joyful comic touch, physical dexterity and timing to match, and a once mean “golden boy,” Oliver (Brendan Edward Kennedy) who transforms into a man of decency. Ian Blackwell Rogers is double cast as Duke Senior, a paragon of civility and integrity even if he has been banished into the Arden forest by Duke Frederick.

Jared H. Graham as Touchstone and Mackenzie Larsen as Audrey in Brave Spirits Theatre's production of 'As You Like It.' Photo by Claire Kimball.
Jared H. Graham as Touchstone and Mackenzie Larsen as Audrey in Brave Spirits Theatre’s production of ‘As You Like It.’ Photo by Claire Kimball.

The As You Like It set is designed by Aimone. It is an un-embellished affair. There is alley seating for about 40 or so. At each end are theatrical trees to represent the Arden Forest.  At one end are two very thick tree trunks made of chicken wire and rolled-up paper. At the opposite end are a dozen or so thinner trees. Jason Aufdem-Brinke lights the trees to give them a lovely glow, and strings of white lights add a jaunty air to the set. Costumes by Adalia Vera Tonneyck are modern dress befitting the overall essence of the Brave Spirits production. The males have their own eccentric looks, including jackets and hats, and the females often are in peasant attire.

As You Like It from Brave Spirits is a lovely, unforced theatrical experience about the transforming power of love, the sense that uncertain behavior can have huge rewards and that marriage is to be celebrated. Of course, the play also contains such oft-remembered lines such as: “All the world’s a stage, And all the men and women merely players.”

Do join the wedding party. Raise a glass and enjoy. Forget your cares.

Running Time: Two hours and fifteen minutes, with one intermission.

As You Like It, presented by Brave Spirits Theatre, runs through April 27, 2019, at The Lab at Convergence – 1819 North Quaker Lane, Alexandria, VA. To purchase tickets, go online.

Anderson Wells, Assistant Director/Le Beau, Amiens; Charlie Cook, Adam/Corin/Oliver Martext; Megan Reichelt, Jacques, Charles the Wrestler; Megan Behm, Intimacy Coordinator; Casey Kaleba, Fight Director; Emily MacLeod, Dramaturg; Sam Rollin, Stage Manager