AS YOU LIKE IT,” as envisioned and reinvented by Melissa Hillman and the cast and company of Impact Theatre is invigorated and invigorating, a refreshing approach that is out-and-out funny. When’s the last time you had an honest-to-god guffaw at Shakespeare? They take the best kinds of liberties with the Bard, and liberty is what it’s all about.
When one reads AYLI, a not uncommon reaction is, “Come on! This Orlando guy is not going to recognize this girl Rosalind who he fell in love with at first sight in a momentary glance when she’s dressed up like a boy?” Yet Maria Giere Marquis is such a chameleon that she becomes almost unrecognizable, and we are entranced by her ability to reveal the inner turmoil of love, deception, and gender confusion.
No “speaking Shakespeare” here in the usual cadence and articulation—instead it’s casual and realistic befitting young people of right now, and that’s the audience. I could count the number of gray and bald heads on my fingers and that includes my own pate.
The cast goes off text occasionally to utter an aside in modern vernacular which adds a very funny level of subtext.
Dave Maier’s fight choreography a la WWE/UFC is believable and wonderfully comedic as performed by Stacz Sadowski as wrestler Charles and Miyaka Cochrane as Orlando. Orlando’s meek underplaying makes him lovably sympathetic.
It’s a gender-bender extraordinaire, and a feminist fête. Rosalind’s best girl friend and cousin Celia is replaced with the character of a young gay man played by Alexander Lenarsky, who enlivens every scene. The duke is the duchess (Marianna Wolff), Jaques is female (Sarah Coykendall), as is LeBeau (Alicia Stamps), and it all works wonderfully. The play’s characters comprise a complicated ménage to begin with, and I feared this extra level of complication would send it over the cliff, but Dr. Hillman thought it through studiously, and there is no confusion.
Luisa Frasconi in the role of Phebe is a joy to watch in her fully committed comic portrayal of a fatuous and conceited teen infatuated with Rosalind in breeches. Dennis Yen as Adam gets lots of laughs in a superb comic characterization of Orlando’s Sancho Panza.
Dr. Hillman’s (PhD UCB) growth as a director is a success story full of chance-taking and innovation. Hillman is grooming the next generation of theatre-goers. She knows her audience and speaks to them in a voice that brings Shakespeare to life with great theatricality without pandering, and serves up plays full of juice and most fulfilling.
Don’t cheat yourself—get a ticket while you can. And you’ll be abashed that you can have such a lively and fulfilling two-hour jaunt for such a modest ticket price.
Impact Theatre performs downstairs in La Val’s Pizza (you can eat your pizza and beer while you watch!) at 1834 Euclid off Hearst in Berkeley at the edge of campus.
http://impacttheatre.com/ 510 224-5744
WITH: Daniel Banatao, Miyaka Cochrane, Sarah Coykendall, Mike Delaney, Luisa Frasconi, Warden Lawlor, Alexander Lenarsky, Maria Giere Marquis, Brandon Mears, Jon Nagel, Cassie Rosenbrock, Stacz Sadowski, Alicia Stamps, Marianna Wolff, and Dennis Yen.