Seeing a play where Shakespeare’s unfortunate characters escape the city and seek refuge in the Forest of Arden is even more enjoyable when experienced in the idyllic setting of Theatricum Botanicum’s natural outdoor theater. Every time I go, I am reminded what an oasis it is in a city overwhelmed with urban sprawl.
In keeping with its season’s Americana theme, Theatricum Botanicum has transported Shakespeare’s comedy As You Like It to the post-Civil War era, a decision that beautifully enhances the homespun charm of its characters while providing a relevant political context for the play. It also gives director Ellen Geer the opportunity to weave early American spirituals and folk songs into the fabric of the piece. One of the loveliest, “Aura Lee” in three-part harmony, delicately wafts on the afternoon breeze.
What is most appealing about the production is the way Geer has brought out the shimmering sweetness in it. There is undeniable love between cousins Rosalind (the ever impeccable Willow Geer) and Celia (Elizabeth Tobias), two playful, giggling girls whose loyalty to each other is never-ending. Upon being banished by Celia’s father, the two secretly set out for the Forest of Arden, with Rosalind disguised as a boy and Celia’s face smirched with umber to hide her refined upbringing. Once there, Tobias offers up one of the funniest performances as Celia I’ve seen to date. She never stops eating and, though silent much of the time, is always present in the scene in an unexpected way. It’s a performance that showcases the actress’ natural ability with comedy and I found myself constantly watching to see what choice she would make next.
City and country folk square off in a myriad of comical ways both in, and out of, the forest. Touchstone (Gerald C. Rivers) and Corin’s (Leo Knudson) repartee about the benefits and perils of courtly life versus a shepherd’s existence is a delightfully intellectual exchange, while the rivalry between brothers Orlando (Colin Simon) and Oliver (Frank Weidner) takes on a humorous physicality. Simon is indeed pitiable as the country bumpkin ill-used by his educated and extremely haughty older sibling. His innocence, vulnerability, and natural grace is completely endearing in this production making him the perfect clueless thorn in Weidner’s side. As the melancholic Jaques, a mutton-chopped Melora Marshall steps into pants once again and wrings all she can out of her world-weary character.
Genuinely full of overriding charm, Theatricum Botanicum’s colonial As You Like It is an effortless romp through life-changing woods. Your present day experience in the hills of Topanga Canyon will be every bit as lovely.
Shakespeare in LA
AS YOU LIKE IT
Through September 26, 2015
Will Geer’s Theatricum Botanicum
1419 N. Topanga Canyon Blvd.
Topanga, CA 90290
Tickets: (310) 455-3723 or www.theatricum.com