'As You Like It' by William Shakespeare

Canadian Stage Dream in High Park, Toronto

Canadian Stage Dream in High Park, Toronto

Joe Szekeres

Enchanting and magical.

Canadian Stage’s ‘As You Like It’ was a truly magical summer evening of entertainment under the stars.
Director Anand Rajaram and this delightful cast whisked me away to a splendid pop-up storybook setting of a capricious life in the Forest of Arden. When I first started teaching high school English many moons ago, ‘As You Like It’ was part of the Grade 10 course syllabus. The students called it ‘As Youse Like It’ and I’ll be candid to say the play wasn’t a favourite of theirs.

At that time, it wasn’t a favourite of mine either.

However, this superfine treatment of one of Shakespeare’s pastoral comedies made me do what I call a ‘What if’ – “What if I had the chance to bring that first Grade 10 class to this production? Sigh!”

Anyway…

There are two parallel stories. Rosalind (Bren Eastcott) faces persecution in her uncle’s court (Ken Hall) and leaves accompanied by her cousin, Celia (Astrid Atherly) to the forest of Arden. Orlando (Paolo Santalucia), a young gentleman of the kingdom has been forced to flee on account of his wicked older brother, Oliver (Shawn DeSouza-Coelho). Orlando has fallen in love at first sight with Rosalind. Rosalind dons a disguise and assumes the name ‘Ganymede’ while Celia does likewise and assumes the name ‘Aliena’.

It is in this magical place of Arden where we meet some truly memorable characters who all experience the emotions of love and who, as Director Rajaram states in his Note, are: “all pursuing their utopia, their sense of freedom and happiness”: Jaques (Dylan Roberts), Touchstone (Eric Woolfe), Audrey (Mairi Babb), Silvius (Marty Adams) and Phebe (Leigh Cameron). Several of these artists play dual or triple roles. There is one clever adaptation in the text. Maja Ardal plays Orlando’s servant, Eve (formerly titled Adam, wink, wink, get it?). And I do want to refer to the famous soliloquy- ‘All the world’s a stage’ – nobly delivered by Ardal in this adaptation. That moment was a masterclass in performance delivery of grace and poise. Truly wonderful to behold and to hear.

Another highlight of this performance is the remarkably prominent vocal work of composer, arranger, and Musical Director, Belinda Corpuz. Whether the song or music was used to underscore a moment or to introduce a key thematic component, Corpuz’s and the company’s dulcet tones remain ethereally charming. I really liked the opening and closing songs of the production. There is a sense the story has come full circle in its completion.

Shadowland Theatre’s extraordinary three-level set, costumes, and props designs are truly wonderful to behold the various colours and shapes. I especially liked the colourfully animated flowers of bright coloured tones gorgeously lit by Logan Raju Cracknell’s designs. There was one point where I thought the costumes at first resembled something the inhabitants of Whoville might have worn. However, further consideration led me to believe the costumes add a great deal to the whimsical majesty of Arden. Very clever indeed.

A great deal of the subtle comic timing perfectly worked thanks to Richard Feren’s audible sound design.

It was interesting to watch the cast complete their warmups on stage about 45 minutes before the production began. Some of the physical movements were rehearsed and practiced ensuring the safety of the actors involved, and it was interesting to see where those moments occurred in the show. Paolo Santalucia is a gentle, loving Orlando. Bren Eastcott’s Rosalind is demure in her relationship with Orlando, but she is a woman to be reckoned with who stands her ground. Astrid Atherly’s Celia becomes Rosalind’s trusted confidante and Atherly also found those amusing moments in her growing affection with Oliver.

There are two moments of pure comic gold that worked tremendously well for me. The first was Eric Woolfe’s Touchstone and his growing infatuated lust with Mairi Babb’s ‘forest-smart’ and, at times, bubble-headed Audrey made me laugh out loud a few times. There were a few moments where I thought I heard the late comedian Gilbert Gottfried’s voice from Woolfe. Whether that was intentional or not or on his part, I thought what a great tribute Woolfe made.

The second occurred with the jokes about Ken’s Hall height as Duke Frederick. I loved the jabs and poking fun behind his back from the other characters.

As the sun set on High Park’s amphitheatre, the playing space dreamily becomes that destination in our minds where we all like to go for a brief reprieve and respite from the demands of the world we know.
I couldn’t agree more with Celia when she says at one point: “I like this place. I could waste my time in it.”

Correction to Celia – I neither felt like I wasted my time in Arden nor at this ‘As You Like It’ Thank you to this cast and crew for allowing me to escape the demands of the world for a little under two hours and just have some fun.

Running time: approximately one hour and 50 minutes with no intermission.

‘As You Like It’ runs to September 4 in the High Park Amphitheatre, 1873 Bloor Street West. For tickets, call (416) 368-3110 or visit www.canadianstage.com

‘As You Like It’ by William Shakespeare
Presented by Canadian Stage Dream in High Park
Director: Anand Rajaram
Stage Manager: Laura Baxter Assistant: Troy Taylor
Composer/Arranger/Musical Director: Belinda Corpuz
Sets, Props and Costume Designer: Shadowland Theatre
Lighting Designer: Logan Raju Cracknell
Sound Designer: Richard Feren
Songs and Music from illustrious Canadian artists

The Company: Marty Adams, Maja Ardal, Astrid Atherly, Mairi Babb, Leigh Cameron, Belinda Corpuz, Shawn DeSouza-Coehlo, Bren Eastcott, Ken Hall, Dylan Roberts, Paolo Santalucia, Eric Woolfe

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