George Bernard Shaw once accused Shakespeare of writing As You Like It as a mere crowd pleaser. And while some may take his comment as a negative, it was evident last night that the Bard on the Beach production has embraced Shaw’s comment, presenting an evening of theatre that was indeed pleasing.
Lois Anderson as Rosalind and Luisa Jojic as her cousin Celia give the best performances of the evening with the duo really shining in their scenes together, contrasting Anderson’s complex Rosalind with Jojic’s more free-wheeling Celia. The familial chemistry between the two women is heart-felt and ultimately believable in a play where, at its core, much of it can be rather silly.
Todd Thomson as Orlando starts off on a single-note but benefits from his connection with Anderson’s Rosalind, come Ganymede, with some very funny results, including a hilarious act two scene were the two almost kiss.
Ryan Beil, as Touchstone the clown, once again proves his comedic talents and is perfectly pared with Amber Lewis as the (very) simple and (very) funny goat herder Audrey. Beil’s playing to the audience on a couple of occasions, however crowd-pleasing they may be, felt out-of-place.
While a comedy, the addition of the death of Orlando’s faithful servant Adam (Richard Newman), late in act one, added a surprising depth in both its simplicity and heart.
The Greenwood ensemble is delightfully brought to life by Shawn Macdonald, Lindsey Angell, Kayvon Khoshkam, Luc Roderique, Duncan Fraser and Lewis’ voluptuously vacant Audrey. Roderique is particularly funny as the simple shepherd William and plays well against Beil’s Touchstone.
Director David Mackay presents a mostly straight-forward interpretation of this gender-bender comedy although he does move the play’s setting to Puritanical England of 1642; I must admit to finding little connection other than perhaps a loose moral comment on the shenanigans going on in the Forest of Arden.
Composer Murray Price adds a number of songs to the proceedings that, while a nice respite from Shakespeare’s text at times, tended to slow things down. The decision to mix live singing with recorded was a bit of a head-scratcher.
Along with this new season for Bard on the Beach comes a brand new main stage tent designed specifically for the company which includes the replacement of the old banquet chairs with proper theatre seating. But while the new seating is definitely a welcome change, the thrust stage inside the enormous tent presented some sound issues for those of us not in the center seating, with dialogue lost when actors played to one side. Scenic designer Kevin McAllister fights against a sea of blue tarp and, at least from our vantage point, a diminished view of the trademark city and mountains from the back of the stage.
Bard on the Beach usually heralds our Vancouver summer, but don’t let the weather outside stop you from enjoying this crowd pleaser inside the big tent at Vanier Park.
As You Like It
By William Shakespeare. Directed by David Mackay. A Bard on the Beach production. In repertory with The Merchant of Venice on the BMO Mainstage tent at Vanier Park through September 24, 2011. Visit http://www.bardonthebeach.org for tickets and information.