"As You Like It" At Shakespeare Festival / LA
DOWNTOWN LOS ANGELES — In the 24th year of Bard-hopping through Downtown LA, Shakespeare Festival/LA takes a detour with minimalist black box staging of "As You Like It." By the time the Forest of Arden is occupied by the visiting New York-based Aquila Theatre, the audience is following the gender switching, multiple role playing, path of merry confusion.
Credit goes to the seven member ensemble, who make the twenty characters speak Shakespeare's words with the same ease as the summer breeze floating prop amber and red leaves off stage right. The actors change character, sometimes on stage, transforming with a seamless physical timing that must have been seen in British Music Halls comedy.
The costumes appear from different eras, sometimes by chance reflecting the same wardrobe that can seen on Art Walk Night. (That could include Charles, the court's champion wrestler, who in this production is masked).
Brevity of the story is barely possible, but some highlights are the banished daughter Rosalind, played by Leandra Ashton, who becomes stoic to a whipping wit in seconds. She disguises herself as a boy after fleeing to the forest with her cousin Celia, offered with pert granola charm by Vaishnavi Sharma. Joining them is the court jester, Touchstone, played by the 6 foot-plus James Lavender. Dressed as a jockey in pink, he is committed to cause comic havoc and still manages to spot attractive women in the audience.
Once Rosalind is incognito as Ganymede, she again finds Orlando, played by Richard Kidd who brings a natural feel to the romantic comedy role. He is wanted by jealous brother Oliver (again, James Lavender), who later falls in love with Celia.
Somewhere in all that, Touchstone touches the emotions of forest resident and goat herder Audrey, played by Lucy Black, who is charmed by his idea of new work boots to go with her tank top and denim shorts.
Black herself is a one woman ensemble. She also takes on the role of Phoebe, Sir Oliver Mar-Text, adding certainty when she delivers "All the world's a stage" as a gender bending Jacques who states "man in his time plays many parts."
Of course, this is all merely the set-up for Act Two, which shows that love can be answered once disguises are disposed of. The elegant force of this ensemble has you enthralled with how they make Shakespeare seem so easy to understand, even with a romantic comedy that is about men and women wrestling their emotions over love.
Shakespeare Festival/LA presents Aquila Theatre in Shakespeare's "As You Like It" / Plaza of The Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels, 555 W. Temple / Runs until July 19 / July 16 performance with American Sign Language / July 17 - Spanish Language / Starts: 8pm, Running time: 2 hrs 30 minutes with 15 minute intermission