A likeable adaptation of a theater classic

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A likeable adaptation of a theater classic
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By Jordan Wright (Photo/Scott Suchman)

Director Michael Attenborough has brought an intriguing interpretation of Shakespeare’s timeless “As You Like It” to the Lansburgh Theatre.

The play is so timeless that the Shakespeare Theatre Company’s latest production features an amalgam of period costumes, from Elizabethan dresses and 1940s-era fedoras and trench coats to hillbilly-inspired Daisy Dukes and Carhartt overalls, without missing a beat. Costume designer Jonathan Fensom makes it one of the refreshing aspects of this reimagined production.

Attenborough mixes up accents too. Rosalind speaks in the crisp cadence of the British upper crust, and while her cohort Celia (and most of the other actors) sport ordinary American accents, a sexed-up Audrey (Tara Giordano) and her hapless suitor have Southern drawls. It makes for an appetizingly approachable version of Shakespeare.

Fensom also is charged with creating the set design, and his intricate use of texture within the otherwise spare sets is another clue as to what the director wants us to feel.

In lieu of lavish depictions of forests and castles, we are treated to billowing amber silk curtains strung across the stage that change direction to depict motion, alter mood and provide intimate locations for the changing of scenes. Instead of trees to depict the woodlands, Fensom has colored the scenes and costumes with shades of umber, moss green, ochre and the crimson hues of autumn leaves.

If you need a plot refresher, the beautiful Rosalind, here played by renowned British stage actor Zoe Waites, has fallen head over heels for the tongue-tied Orlando (Andrew Veenstra). In true Shakespearean style, the lovers are ill fated and — to make matters worse — they are banished by their royal families.

To seek refuge, Rosalind, Celia and Touchstone flee into the fantasy forest of Arden. Unbeknownst to the trio, Orlando has undertaken a mission to find Rosalind in the very same forest. Yet unlike Romeo and Juliet, our adventurers reach a happily-ever-after conclusion.

Happy ending aside, know that there are enough jokes and plot twists to fill an entire season of TV sitcoms. As Touchstone reminds us, “We that are true lovers run into strange capers. But as all is mortal in nature, so is all nature in love mortal in folly.”

There are so many marvelous actors in this play that it’s tricky to laud only a few, but Waites is notable as the comely and feisty Rosalind, the self-appointed love expert; Timothy Stickney adds heft, power and magnitude to the dual roles of Duke Senior and Duke Frederick; Adina Verson has delicately girlish charm as Celia, counterbalancing Rosalind’s transformation into the rough-hewn boy Ganymede; Andrew Weems is superb as the fantastically absurd motley fool, Touchstone; and Derek Smith is madly captivating as the snarkily haughty and delightfully melancholy cynic, Jaques.

And though we don’t see her until the last act, look for Valeri Mudek to lend a surprising appeal to the fickle Phebe.

In the immortal words of Jaques, “All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players: they have their entrances and exits…” and we all will be the better for watching Attenborough’s original interpretation.

“As You Like It” runs through December 14th at the Shakespeare Theatre Company’s Lansburgh Theatre at 450 7th Street NW, Washington, D.C. 20003. For tickets and information contact the box office at 202 547-1122 or visit www.shakespearetheatre.org.

 

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