AS YOU LIKE IT by William Shakespeare (Shakespeare in High Park/Canadian Stage). At the High Park Amphitheatre (1873 Bloor West). Runs in rep with Titus Andronicus to August 31. Pwyc ($20 sugg). 416-368-3110. See listing. Rating: NNN
Continuing the new format introduced last year, Canadian Stage offers Shakespeare in High Park audiences a choice between comedy and tragedy with alternating productions of As You Like It and Titus Andronicus.
The lighter and more family-oriented of the two, As You Like It gets a vibrant musical treatment and scores consistent laughs thanks to strong performances that clearly convey the meaning behind the Bard's sometimes cryptic verse.
The action focuses on the awkward social fallout after the cold-hearted Duke Frederick (Omar Alex Khan) drives his brother, Duke Senior (Beau Dixon), from power. Rosalind (Amy Rutherford), daughter of the exiled duke, is still best friends with Duke Frederick's daughter Celia (Chala Hunter), and when Frederick banishes Rosalind, Celia decides they should both flee to the woods in disguise. This leads to comic confusion when Rosalind's love interest, Orlando (Alexander Plouffe), encounters her masquerading as a man named Ganymede.
Director Nigel Shawn Williams offers a breezy update inspired by 1950s France, mainly expressed through Lindsay Anne Black's colourful fedora-heavy costumes. However, this surface connection to post-war France could have been made deeper. Post-Vichy France was recovering from a traumatic change in leadership, which might have been fruitfully paralleled or at least referenced by the rival Dukes - a missed opportunity. Additionally, Sam Sholdice's cute and catchy acoustic folk- and rock-inspired songs that pepper the show harken back to 1960s America, clashing with the visuals. That said, the songs are memorable and ably sung and performed by the cast.
Entertaining performances make the story engaging and accessible for all ages. A funny, well-choreographed wrestling match early on is a crowd-pleaser, and Rutherford's double duty as Rosalind and her male alter ego Ganymede produce some sweet and sexually progressive moments with Plouffe's lovesick Orlando.
As always, High Park's verdant surroundings provide an extra degree of enchantment, this time standing in for the Forest of Arden.