I attended opening night of this stellar production kicking off the Bard on the Beach Shakespeare Festival for 2011. Opening its 22nd season with the light-hearted romantic comedy As You Like It. The play is staged Tuesdays through Sundays, June 2 to September 24, in the new 742-seat custom-built Mainstage Theatre tent in Vanier Park. David Mackay returns to direct after his Festival staging of The Comedy of Errors in 2009.
In this merriest of comedies, Shakespeare draws on his signature themes of disguise, misplaced affections and pastoral passion. The setting is ripe for romance when Rosalind, daughter of the banished Duke, runs away in disguise with her cousin Celia to the Forest of Arden. There they meet a pair of feuding brothers and Rosalind, who is masquerading as a young man, finds herself uniquely poised to teach her unknowing suitor Orlando the way to win a woman’s heart.
Duke Frederick (David Marr) has usurped the title and throne of his elder brother, Duke Senior, who has taken up residence in the Forest of Arden with his band of loyal followers, leaving his daughter, Rosalind (Lois Anderson), behind at the court. Nearby strife between another pair of brothers, Orlando (Todd Thomson) and Oliver (Sebastian Kroon), drives one of them to enter a wrestling match against Charles (Charlie Gallant) – a champion wrestler – sponsored by Duke Frederick and the courtier Le Beau (Duncan Fraser). To everyone’s surprise, Orlando wins the match. In doing so, he attracts the romantic attention of Rosalind, along with the ire of his brother Oliver. Duke Frederick decides to banish Rosalind to Arden as he did with her father. Celia (Luisa Jojic), Duke Frederick’s daughter and Rosalind’s best friend, declares that she will accompany her in exile. Rosalind disguises herself as a boy named Ganymede, while Celia assumes the part of “his” sister, Aliena. For fun, they decide to bring the Duke’s Fool, Touchstone (Ryan Beil), with them to live among the local shepherds including Corin (Shawn Macdonald). Back at court, Orlando arrives home and is warned by an old servant, Adam (Richard Newman) that Oliver plans to kill him that night. Together they flee to the Forest of Arden where they meet the melancholy Jaques (John Murphy) and Orlando begins to leave messages of love carved on the Forest of Arden’s trees. Meanwhile Rosalind attempts to set up a match between the lovelorn shepherd Silvius (Kayvon Khoshkam) and his scornful beloved, Phebe (Lindsey Angell), but it goes awry when Phebe falls instead for Rosalind’s Ganymede. Still in disguise, Rosalind/Ganymede also seeks out Orlando to get a better sense of his feelings for her. Back at court, Oliver and his servant Denis (Luc Roderique) are ordered to find his brother but instead Oliver falls in love with a ‘shepherdess’ (really the princess Celia in disguise). Even Touchstone falls in love, with a goat herder named Audrey (Amber Lewis)! The play ends with a quadruple wedding ceremony and the announcement that Duke Frederick has rejected his past and opted for a monastic life – whereby Duke Senior is restored to his rightful position.
The play runs Tuesdays to Sundays June 2 to September 24, 2011 under the tents in Vanier Park. Tickets $21 to $40. Box office: 604-739-0559 or www.bardonthebeach.org.