Someone once said, 'All tragedies end with a funeral. All comedies end with a wedding." If that's the case, As You Like It, currently on the boards at the Shakespeare Festival at Tulane, is a comedy four times over. This romp climaxes with connubial bliss on a grand scale. That's a good thing, too, because the play begins under dark clouds of intrigue and injustice.
Director Sean Patterson, with the able assistance of costume designer Cecile Casey Covert, sets the play at the dawn of the jazz age. A ukulele, a straw boater and chic saddle shoes set the mood. There is even a brief flash of a pistol and an invisible roadster. These flights of fancy don't distract, however; they reinforce the freewheeling mood. As You Like It, after all, is kind of a fairy tale.
The play begins with grim (or should that be Grimm?) skullduggery. Oliver (Matthew Mickal) has cut his young brother Orlando (James Bartelle) out of their family inheritance. This nastiness mirrors similar machinations at the seat of power. Duke Frederick (J. Patrick McNamara) has usurped the land and title of his elder brother Duke Senior (Ron Gural) and banished him to the Forest of Arden. In these events, the bad guys are winning.
Things soon get worse. Duke Frederick banishes his brother's daughter Rosalind (Trina Beck) from the dukedom on pain of death. But Duke Frederick's own daughter Celia (Jennifer Mefford) loves her cousin Rosalind so much that she resolves to flee with her. The two will go to the Forest of Arden to try their chances there. To make matters more chaotic, Rosalind will disguise herself as a young man named Ganymede as part of the adventure.
Duke Frederick sics his mighty wrestler Charles (Liam Kraus) on Orlando in hopes of killing or crippling him. Orlando somehow not only survives the bout but triumphs. Furthermore, he and Rosalind fall in love, and she gives him her necklace as a keepsake.
Rosalind and her cousin take off for the Forest of Arden accompanied by Touchstone (Lorenzo Gonzalez), the motley fool. Orlando escapes his brother's tyranny by heading to the same Forest of Arden. Duke Frederick charges Orlando's nefarious brother to find the runaways or face banishment.
It's quite a back-story, but it's easier to follow on stage than in synopsis. In fact, it's really like winding up a roomful of spring-driven toys. The fun is in watching them come to life in the Forest of Arden. The cast manages to maintain an even, enjoyable tone throughout the chaos. They seem at home in this fairy tale world, and we relax into it with them.
The prevalent mood of Arden is romantic. Love floats in the air like the perfume of blossoms and makes the mortals drunk with desire. It knows no bounds. Shepherds and shepherdesses as well as court gents and ladies swoon. Some of the comedy arises from gender confusion. Orlando writes poems to his Rosalind and pins them to trees, where she finds them. Disguised as the boy Ganymede, she meets Orlando and sets about to cure him of his love for Rosalind. Ganymede will do this by allowing Orlando to woo him as though he were Rosalind. Meanwhile, a shepherdess falls in love with Ganymede as well.
And so it goes. Comic confusion reigns as the play swirls toward its gentle, optimistic conclusion, where all lost fortunes are finally restored. The melancholy Jaques (one of the Arden exiles) informs us " in the famous monologue " that 'All the world's a stage and all the men and women merely players." He lists seven ages that each man plays, but it seems here in Arden, each man plays a great many more roles.
Lara Grice throws a tasty pinch of self-parody into the cynical poses of Jaques.
The excellent cast in this pastoral is too large to credit individually, but special notice should be given to James Bartelle and Trina Beck as the central lovers, Jennifer Mefford as Rosalind's stalwart cousin and Lorenzo Gonzalez for his madcap fool.
- Celia (Jennifer Medford) and Rosalind (Trina Beck) seek refuge in the Forest of Arden in As You Like It.