Seattle Shakespeare’s final show of their 2019 indoor season, “As You Like It,” opened at Center Theater last Friday to no shortage of laughs. Kelly Kitchens’ directs this very hipster-esque version of the Bard’s comedy.
Despite the enduring popularity of Shakespeare’s works, there’s always a degree of difficulty in adapting his four hundred year old language, labyrinthine plots, and extreme melodrama to the modern stage. “As You Like It” is no exception. The story opens with Orlando (Quinlan Corbett), challenging a champion wrestler (Chad Sommerville) in order to prove his worth, as his older brother and guardian, Oliver (Corey McDaniel) despises him and refuses to grant him the lifestyle and respect worthy of his rank. Orlando wins the bout, to the surprise of all, including Oliver (who instructed Charles to kill him), and the fair Rosalind (Jonelle Jordan), daughter of an exiled duke being kept as the guest and friend of her cousin, Celia (Sunam Ellis). In short order, Orlando learns of his brother’s treachery from his servant, Adam (Julie Jamieson), and flees with him to the Forest of Arden. Rosalind is then banished from the court of her uncle, so she too is (conveniently) forced to flee, disguised as a man, to the forest of Arden, where her banished Duke mother is hiding out. Accompanying her is her loyal cousin,and the court jester, Touchstone, played by Rebecca M. Davis, who adds a nontraditional, no-nonsense glam to her role.
I wish it could say it gets less complicated from here, but this is Shakespeare we’re talking about. The fantastic cast however manages to outwit the more sensational aspects of the script by refusing to take it seriously. Celia and Rosalind seem more like schoolgirls going on a weekend adventure than anything as they flee for their lives, giggling as they chose their incognito names. While Orlando’s dramatic costume change, from frat-boy pleather letterman to indie-musician sherpa jacket hardly hints at dire poverty (Chelsea Cook’s wardrobe choices more than aid this interpretation, the extended cast whom appear in the forest all sport L.L. Bean, 2014-folk-music-video plaid, 2019 Seattle’s version of rustic). The end effect is a charming, rather whimsical production that is flat out hilarious.
While Jordan and Corbett are adorable, if slightly awkward, as pining lovers, it is the more platonic forms of love that drive the show forward. Jamieson’s performance as Orlando’s devoted servant is touching, and only becomes more so when we see how much the feeling is returned. The sisterly affection between Jordan and Ellis however, is by far the highlight of the production. Ellis brings extraordinary humour to her relatively minor role, even in scenes where she lacks lines her talent as a physical actor is boundless.
Never mind how you like it, you won’t be able to help loving this production.
“As You Like It,” written by William Shakespeare. Directed by Kelly Kitchens. Center Theatre (in the Armory), 305 Harrison St, Seattle, WA 98109. Through May 19. Tickets and more info: here.