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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

Shakespeare done exactly ‘as you like it’

Rosalind (Michelle Luz) covers the ears of a befuddled Orlando (James Conway) as Celia (Angela Bray) wonders why her cousin is keeping secrets.
Rosalind (Michelle Luz) covers the ears of a befuddled Orlando (James Conway) as Celia (Angela Bray) wonders why her cousin is keeping secrets.

It’s hard to make live Shakespeare hip. Every so often a film version or “”modernization”” tries, but since movies like “”10 Things I Hate About You,””  that tack has turned lame.

Luckily, the UA’s Arizona Repertory Theatre’s production of “”As You Like It”” does everything a Shakespeare production should, plus modernizing the comedy just enough to make it seem, well, hip.

It’s not exactly clear when this production is set — it seems to be a time fairly close to the present, only way better dressed. The set and costumes are simple but attractive. Much of the ambience is set by lighting, which changes dazzlingly between scenes in the dreary city to the almost-enchanted forest of Arden, where all the good stuff happens. The music, too, is expertly chosen and utilized. Soft indie guitar music, which seems like it might be horribly incongruous, instead provides a perfect soundtrack for the play’s delightful antics and sweet love stories. All this well-crafted background allows the actors to truly shine.

And shine they do. “”As You Like It”” is a comedy about young people finding their way in the world, and falling in love in the process, so the fresh-faced actors who make up this cast fit perfectly into their roles. Michelle Luz’s Rosalind and James Conway’s Orlando, the play’s main couple, play their honest, earnest love story to perfection. Conway, in particular, is utterly loveable, and couples this charm with an impressive and energetic physical performance. Indeed, all of the physical aspects of the play, especially the fight scenes, are expertly choreographed and quite believable.

Luz is lovely as Shakespeare’s most feminist heroine. She’s the perfect combination of a girl experiencing first love and a fierce, wise-beyond-her-years young woman. Her turn as Ganymede, Rosalind’s male disguise and alter ego, is funny and gender bending in a surprisingly provocative way. There’s just enough strange homoerotic tension between “”him”” and Orlando to keep the second act interesting.

But the real scene-stealers in this production are the supporting roles, particularly Angela Bray’s Celia. As Rosalind’s ditzy but winsome best friend, Bray is spot on. When she’s on stage, even if she doesn’t say a word, you can’t take your eyes off her. She embodies Celia at every moment, delivering her lines as if they were written in 2011 rather than 1599. Her facial expressions alone can carry a scene. The only disappointment comes when she ends up with Orlando’s grumpy older brother Oliver, who is just not good enough for her.

Chris Karl’s Jacques, the self-proclaimed melancholic fool who delivers some of the play’s most famous lines, also impresses. His performance is surprisingly nuanced — when he espouses, “”All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players,”” he manages to convey both how proud Jacques is of this statement, and how banal and silly the whole speech is meant to be. Like Bray, Karl’s presence onstage is enough to draw every eye to him, no matter what else is going on. His departure for a religious life before the end is a sore disappointment.

Perhaps the most impressive aspect of this deeply enjoyable production is how much care clearly went into every part. At several moments, the characters pause the action for a song. The script bears the simple stage direction “”SONG,”” and these moments could be glossed over with silly ditties. Instead, each is a fully realized, beautifully performed song, sung by actors who, the audience is somewhat surprised to find, have gorgeous voices.

Moments like these don’t worry about forwarding the plot; they simply allow time to enjoy, indeed revel in, the magical world of Shakespeare’s creation. The play’s languid pacing and the actors’ clear enjoyment of their roles make watching “”As You Like It”” surprisingly delicious. The audience emerges dazzled, energized and wishing the performance hadn’t ended so soon.

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