Summer is the time for Shakespeare in America, and, whether outdoors or in, The Bard’s elusive sense combines best with the fragrance of the season in the comedies.
Arclight, a new theater company, has given that combination a new spin with a staging of As You Like It in a French Neo-Classical setting that adds the light touch of a Watteau landscape, peopled with courtiers and clowns.
Directed by founder David Koppel, himself an actor who’s been seen with TheatreFIRST and in Altarena’s fine Death of a Salesman last winter, this is Arclight’s first sally onstage, and, surprisingly, the first production of Shakespeare at Altarena in its venerable seven decades of diverse productions.
In this comedy of exile healed by love, a verbal sleight of hand renders the Forest of Arden, where the deposed Duke (David C. McGaffney) makes his primitive refuge into a rustic utopia with his faithful entourage, into Ardennes, where the disaffected go to make merry in the perverse freedom of their displacement.
Arriving in disguise, are the sister-like pair Rosalind (Shannon Nicholson) and Celia (Amy Wares), daughter of the deposed Duke and her friendly cousin, whose father, the usurper, has banished Rosalind. They are accompanied by truant court fool, Touchstone (Mike Nebecker).
Their transition from playful, fairy-like ladies of the court in powdered wig and gown to lowly attire is one of the magic touches of this play, and this production.
Unknown to them, a lad dispossessed by his older brother, Orlando (Jeremy Forbing), who attracted Rosalind’s passion in a brief glimpse during a wrestling match at court, has also fled to the forest, attacking the Duke’s camp for food only to find it freely given.
Orlando becomes Ganymede’s student in love, after he papers the trees of the forest with extravagant verses to Rosalind.
Among the Duke’s companions is melancholy Jaques (excellently played by James Hiser), who laughs dryly and well at all he perceives.
Adding to the diverse (and whimsical) sensibilities of the forest creatures is the constant flow of music, both from a hidden ensemble above, led by Adrienne Chambers, playing French 18th century airs on strings, flute and French horn and the fine voice of Maureen Quintana as Amiens (and a Courtier), singing the great, evanescent songs The Bard has made the soul of the play. The songs are the play’s very meaning, along with the acid and ironic truths about life and love his clowns have license to utter playfully amid the romantic fervor of the principals.
This cast of 14, many of them young players, is very game and sprightly, complemented by the designers (Hilma Kargoll for sets, Robert Anderson for lighting, Maya Attai and Noor Manteghi for the sumptuous costumes).
Scene and costume changes from court to forest are made in full view of the audience, another magic touch, as the shadows of the leaves seem to turn in the light to music, and pillars become tree trunks, courtiers rustics—and, as Jaques so famously declaims, “All the world’s a stage.”
AS YOU LIKE IT
Through July 23 at the Altarena Playhouse. $8-$15. For more information, call (800) 838-3006, or see www.altarena.org. 1409 High St., Alameda.