AS YOU LIKE IT by William Shakespeare, directed by James MacDonald, with Allana Harkin, Edward Bélanger, Jo Chim, Rami Posner, Michael Spencer-Davis, Ashley Wright and Ardon Bess. Presented by CanStage at the Dream Site, High Park. Runs to September 5, Tuesday-Saturday 8 pm. $15 (suggested min). 416-367-1652, ext 2. Rating: NNN Rating: NNN
If light, breezy Shakespeare entices you on a summer evening, you can't do better than CanStage's version of As You Like It , the 22nd edition of the company's outdoor Dream In High Park. As in A Midsummer Night's Dream, much of the action takes place in a forest, so the setting is well suited to the text. Surprisingly, designer Bretta Gerecke relies more on artificial greenery than natural, but you can't ignore the decades-old trees that surround you and the action.
And pretty entertaining action it is, too, thanks to director James MacDonald , who's updated the action to the 50s - Great Balls Of Fire is part of the pre-show music - with the help of costume designer David Boechler . Orlando, with his white T and jeans, could pass as a rocker, while Rosalind first appears in an outfit that turns her into a young Katharine Hepburn.
The heart of this romantic comedy, which ends with a quadruple wedding, is as vibrant as its look, with Allana Harkin and Edward Belanger a perfectly believable Rosalind and Orlando, he smitten with her at first sight, she - disguised as a boy - equally in love but trying to test the depth of his emotions. Their potent chemistry gives extra fizz to the show, and their scenes together are the production's most engaging.
Initially there's little sense of intimacy, with people declaiming rather than speaking their lines, and not everyone in the multi-ethnic cast is equally strong.
Standout performers include Ashley Wright , who plays Touchstone's comedy and lust well, while Michael Spencer-Davis goes for the humour in Jaques rather than his melancholy. Ardon Bess brings warmth to the shepherd Corin, and Ella Chan and Raul Tome make Phebe and Silvius an energetic and endearing bucolic couple.
As You Like It is a show filled with song, and Marek Norman 's compositions and musical direction also play up the 50s angle, with doo-wop numbers, bongos and girl back-up groups.
While there's an element of darkness in the text, MacDonald and his company instead highlight its entertainment value. And on a pleasant July or August night, that's valid enough.