AS YOU LIKE IT By William Shakespeare, directed by Albert Schultz (Soulpepper). At Young Centre for the Performing Arts (55 Mill). To April 19. $5-$65. 416-866-8666. Rating: NN
Maybe the folks at Soulpepper have been watching too many teen sitcoms. What else could explain why, despite its pastoral references and poetic verses, the young-love relationships in As You Like It have as much passion and longing as a YTV rerun?
Shakespeare’s comedy involves lots of courtship and romantic philosophizing.
The central love plot concerns Orlando (Michael Blake) and Rosalind (Sarah Wilson), who fall for each other but must part when Rosalind is banished from the court.
She flees with her dutiful cousin Celia (Jennifer Villaverde) to the Forest of Arden in search of Duke Senior (Derek Boyes), Rosalind’s exiled dad.
As cousins and best friends, Wilson and Villaverde show little affection for each other and even less comfort with the script. As they shrilly deliver their lines, you’ll wish you could banish your own ears. Blake and Wilson strike few romantic sparks as lovers, and although a plot device has Wilson dressed as a boy much of the time, they fail to play up the comedy.
Thankfully, director Albert Schultz plays it up in other ways.
With fight director Simon Fon’s help, he stages a marvellously silly wrestling match between Charles (Stephen Guy-McGrath) and Orlando. He uses set designer Lorenzo Savoini’s imaginative pond made from rope with amusing results.
And musical director Mike Ross enhances Shakespeare’s songs with country-rock harmonies.
The cast falls into two distinct groups: those who mechanically recite the text and those who embrace it.
The latter includes Oliver Dennis, who spews delicious wit but goes beyond mere silliness as Touchstone. He and Audrey (Krystin Pellerin) become the only couple you root for.
And Diego Matamoros’s brooding, Bob Dylanish Jaques stands apart.