By JEAN LOWERISON | Uptown News
Banishment by a mean old usurping king results in no fewer than four marriages, general merriment and a forest wedding party complete with confetti in the Old Globe’s delightful recreation of Shakespeare’s charming pastoral comedy “As You Like It,” playing through July 21 on the theater’s Lowell Davies Festival Theatre stage.
Jessica Stone directs her fifth Globe play with wit and a steady hand, moving it to the 18th-century Enlightenment period in France, where the woods are woodsier, the wine and music much better (the latter thanks to the luscious vocal stylings of Summer Broyhill and her guitar) and the wedding parties way more fun.
A lovely (and huge) center-stage pastoral painting by Fragonard is moved back and forth (and used as a scrim), posts become trees (well, nude ones), perfect for those love notes Orlando posts to Rosalind, and viewers get a sense of movement throughout which works well.
Love is the main topic here, but points are also made about injustice, forgiveness and the contrast between life invigorating nature and the phoniness of life in court.
Charming, take-charge Rosalind and her affable cousin Celia (Nikki Massoud) are both adorable and inseparable, so when usurper uncle Frederick (Cornell Womack) tosses Rosalind out of the castle, he loses his daughter Celia in the bargain, and both girls end up in the forest of Arden, where a near epidemic of romance is about to blossom. Rosalind’s dad, Duke Senior, will also take refuge in the woods.
The romantic stars here are Rosalind (Meredith Garretson) and Orlando (Jon Orsini), a young gentleman who has been mistreated by his older brother Oliver (Aubrey Deeker Hernandez). They will be joined by three other couples.
But first, Rosalind thinks a little deception would be fun. She will dress en homme and call herself Ganymede; Celia will fake poverty and call herself the shepherdess Aliena (“stranger”). They will travel with court fool Touchstone (Vincent Randazzo, impossible to miss in chartreuse tights).
Meanwhile, Oliver figures he’ll make short work of Orlando by setting him up for sure defeat at the hands of court wrestler Charles (Roman Barris). But this play is full of twists, and Orlando wins, which entitles him to receive half of his inheritance.
Orlando’s trusty old family servant Adam (Joseph Kamal) warns Orlando to flee and offers all the money he’s saved. Orlando instead takes Adam along to the forest.
When Orlando spots Rosalind, er, Ganymede, he’s fascinated (not to mention suspicious about her real identity) but he plays along, showing the new “gentleman” his many notes to Rosalind on the trees until he/she offers to cure him of this pesky Rosalind affliction.
One day, Orlando spots brother Oliver about to be devoured by a lion. Orlando saves him, just in time for Oliver to discover that Celia is pretty cute and seems interested in him. Meanwhile, Touchstone sets his sights on dull-witted shepherdess Audrey (Yadira Correa).
In the forest, love is also in bloom, at least for some. Shepherd Silvius (Mason Conrad) has amusingly over-the-top hots for shepherdess Phoebe (Morgan Taylor), who does not return the compliment (she’s hooked on “Ganymede”) but, as Rosalind will later tell her, “Sell when you can. You are not for all markets.”
Let’s see, have I forgotten anyone? Oh yes, the melancholy Jaques (Mark H. Dold), who boasts “I can suck melancholy out of a song as a weasel sucks eggs” (charming, isn’t it?) and does a splendid job on the famous “ages of man” speech. He will make himself useful by marrying the happy couples.
It’s almost exhausting, isn’t it? But well directed, wonderfully acted and a terrific night in the theater. Don’t miss it.
— Jean Lowerison is a long-standing member of the San Diego Theatre Critics Circle and can be reached at email@example.com.