No bald sopranos or rhinoceroses in sight, but “As You Like It” is evidence the Bard indulged in theatre of the absurd long before Ionesco. This just might be the most convoluted, improbable rom-com ever written, but New Swan Shakespeare Festival makes sense of the nonsense and maximizes the laughs in their delightful new staging of the play (at UC Irvine through Aug. 27). Adding to the fun is the Depression Era Chicago setting unique to this production.
The role of Rosalind requires verbal gymnastics on the scale of an Olympic athlete—with our heroine disguised as a man much of the time, while convincing her beau to pretend “he” is she and pitch the woo accordingly—and Steph Philo delivers a performance worthy of a gold medal. Nick Manfredi gives as good as he gets as the object of her affections, Orlando. Maribel Martinez (as Roz’s cousin Celia) and Adrian Alita (the melancholy Jacques) provide first-rate support.
If Sam Arnold is a touch disappointing as Touchstone, Kelsey Jenison practically steals the second half of the show making a bawdy buffoon of his love interest, Audrey the shepherdess. She’s just part of director Eli Simon’s “send in the clowns” approach to consistently tickle the funnybone while remaining faithful to the Bard. If it’s a little hard to conjure the forest of Arden in NSSF’s otherwise aesthetically pleasing venue, Simon’s inspired musicale finale injects more than a bit of magic into the summer night air.
This review was previously published on the now defunct media website, Examiner.com.