‘As You Like It’ on shaky ground

An­taeus Theatre’s ‘part­ner-cast­ing’ leaves the pro­duc­tion feel­ing a bit un­set­tled.

Los Angeles Times - - CALENDAR - CHARLES McNULTY THEATER CRITIC charles.mcnulty @la­times.com

“Sweet are the uses of ad­ver­sity,” the ex­iled Duke Se­nior as­serts from his camp­ground in the For­est of Arden in “As You Like It.” For a drama critic at­tend­ing a lack­lus­ter pro­duc­tion of Shake­speare’s great­est com­edy, th­ese words are a re­minder that there are lessons to be learned from even a limply staged mas­ter­work.

At the open­ing Thurs­day of An­taeus Theatre Com­pany’s pro­duc­tion of “As Your Like It” at the Kiki & David Gindler Per­form­ing Arts Cen­ter in Glen­dale, I found my­self won­der­ing why, with so many pass­able-to-good in­di­vid­ual per­for­mances, the re­sult was so flat-footed. The Peas­cods (the act­ing group I saw) al­ter­nate with the Acorns in a pro­duc­tion directed by Rob Clare that still feels un­set­tled.

Com­mon sense would sug­gest that An­taeus’ prac­tice of “part­ner cast­ing” isn’t ideal for ma­te­rial as ex­pan­sive and di­rec­to­ri­ally chal­leng­ing as Shake­speare. Re­hears­ing one ac­tor per prin­ci­pal role is tough enough; dou­bling the num­ber of Ros­alinds, Or­lan­dos, Celias and Touch­stones (among other char­ac­ters) is open­ing the door to chaos.

But let’s ta­ble any spec­u­la­tion on the fall­out of this sys­tem of pro­duc­ing for the time be­ing. The prob­lem on­stage is that the ac­tors have lit­tle re­la­tion­ship to any sense of place. The set by François-Pierre Couture, a de­signer whose boldly imag­i­na­tive work I’ve long ad­mired, is a bland mar­ble­like slab that makes no dis­tinc­tion be­tween court and coun­try.

The open­ing scenes ex­ist in a kind of no-man’s-land. The per­form­ers’ phys­i­cal life hasn’t yet caught up with their line read­ings.

Ros­alind (Sally Hughes) and her cousin Celia (De­sirée Mee Jung) have be­come in­sep­a­ra­ble af­ter Celia’s tyran­ni­cal fa­ther, Duke Fred­er­ick (Brian Abra­ham), has usurped the do­min­ions of Ros­alind’s ban­ished fa­ther, Duke Se­nior (Bernard K. Ad­di­son). Th­ese af­fec­tion­ately wise­crack­ing young women should know where they’re go­ing, but the ac­tresses play­ing them wan­der about their en­vi­ron­ment with the ten­ta­tive­ness of vis­i­tors to a for­eign city.

Jung’s Celia is a pertly amus­ing side­kick, the Ethel to Ros­alind’s Lucy. When Celia bel­lows to her down­cast cousin, “Be merry,” the im­pe­ri­ous im­pli­ca­tion (“Or else!”) is ut­tered more out of pain than ag­gres­sion but hi­lar­i­ous all the same.

Hughes’ wor­ried-look­ing Ros­alind doesn’t seem all that con­cerned with gal-pal chem­istry. She doesn’t have much nat­u­ral affin­ity with Matthew Gal­len­stein’s af­fa­ble Or­lando ei­ther. He’s the dis­in­her­ited young man who wins her heart af­ter tri­umph­ing in a wrestling match and earn­ing Duke Fred­er­ick’s ire, which sends him and his fa­ther’s old ser­vant, Adam (Mitchell Ed­monds), scram­bling into the woods along with the women for a mas­querad­ing, ob­sta­cle-strewn frolic that in­evitably be­comes ro­man­ti­cally en­rich­ing.

There are a few no­tice­ably weak per­for­mances in this lyri­cally short­changed pro­duc­tion. Abra­ham’s Fred­er­ick turns a com­edy tyrant into a car­toon vil­lain. But the wide­spread prob­lem is a con­spic­u­ous lack of con­nec­tion among com­pany mem­bers. JD Cul­lum’s Touch­stone, the fool trav­el­ing with the women, would be fun­nier were his gibes and gags tar­geted to a char­ac­ter rather than pitched to au­di­ence mem­bers for their ap­pro­ba­tion.

Steve Hofven­dahl stands out in the small part of Corin, a ge­nial shep­herd, for sim­ply regis­ter­ing what­ever an­other char­ac­ter is say­ing. (You know your pro­duc­tion of “As You Like It” is in trou­ble when Corin steals the show!)

Per­haps be­cause melan­choly Jaques is sup­posed to be iso­lated, I thought rea­son­ably well of James Su­to­rius’ por­trayal. But the char­ac­ter’s seven ages of man mono­logue is per­formed with a touch too much somber sen­ti­ment for a speech that is meant to have the residue of an old set piece. (There’s wis­dom in Jaques’ lines but of an over­re­hearsed or­der.)

A. Jef­frey Schoen­berg’s cos­tumes, nei­ther ap­pro­pri­ately pe­riod nor leg­i­bly mod­ern dress, fail to es­tab­lish a co­her­ent the­atri­cal world. Why, for heaven’s sake, are Anna La­madrid’s droll Phebe and Paul Cu­los’ stu­pe­fied Sil­vius, two moony rus­tics who spend their days among sheep, dressed as though they’re liv­ing in Lon­don dur­ing the swing­ing ’60s?

Clare is an ex­pe­ri­enced hand with Shake­speare, but he seems to be con­tend­ing here with in­ad­e­quate re­sources and im­pos­si­ble lo­gis­tics. For­tu­nately, the play’s the thing, and “As You Like It” is un­de­ni­ably a po­etic jewel. But it needs a Ros­alind to an­chor the com­edy with her charm and acute in­tel­li­gence and a troupe that can make the love games seem heart­felt even when they stretch credulity to the break­ing point.

Hughes grows sharper af­ter Ros­alind trans­forms her­self into Ganymede and be­gins to school Or­lando in the ways of love, but she’s still find­ing her foot­ing. Who can blame her, though, when all the play­ers still seem to be get­ting ac­quainted? Part­ner cast­ing has its fans (mostly among ac­tors who like the flex­i­bil­ity it pro­vides them), but it has yet to prove ef­fec­tive in my ex­pe­ri­ence with Shake­speare.

Pho­to­graphs by Daniel G. Lam Pho­tog­ra­phy

PEAS­CODS cast mem­ber Luis Kelly-Duarte car­ries cast­mate Matthew Gal­len­stein as Brian Abra­ham, right, watches in “As You Like It” in Glen­dale.

CELIA (De­sirée Mee Jung, left) with Ros­alind (Sally Hughes) in the An­taeus Theatre Com­pany pro­duc­tion at Kiki & David Gindler Per­form­ing Arts Cen­ter.

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