Review "As You Like It": Lit to Colorful Perfection

Chicago Shakespeare Theater presents

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At Navy Pier, 800 E. Grand Street
Written by William Shakespeare
Directed by Gary Griffin
Thru March 6th
Buy Tickets
Running Time:  Two hours and forty-five minutes with a fifteen minute intermission.

Reviewed by Katy Walsh

“All the world ‘s a stage, and all the men and women merely players. They have their exits and their entrances;  And one man in his time plays many parts…” 

She loves him.  He loves her.  The wrinkle: she’s a he AND he doesn’t know she’s he.  Chicago Shakespeare Theater presents AS YOU LIKE IT, a farcical tale of banishment, duplicity and the new hot spot for singles… the forest.  The Duke is on an exile rampage.  First, his brother.  Next, a wrestling champion.  Now, his niece.   The refugees flee to the woods for solace.  The brother, Duke Senior knows how to deport with servants and ample food.  The champ, Orlando isn’t as survivor-savvy. He takes along an old man for a companion and a satchel of love letters.  The niece, Rosalind is more path-smart about the potential snags of being a female fugitive in the Renaissance era.  So, she disguises herself as a man and drags along her cousin and the court clown for the jungle adventure.  What happens in the forest stays in the forest… life is simpler.  People share their food and their devotion without identity concerns.  Shakespeare wrote a poignant tale defying class, rank and gender protocols for his time period.  In AS YOU LIKE IT, Chicago Shakespeare illustrates the trees through the forest lit to colorful perfection.

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Scenic designer Kevin Depinet opens the show with a stark, wooden fortress.  Two gigantic doors and an oversize pendulum clock set the ominous illusion.  For the forest scene, the wall disappears and the flooring planks tangle up into a tree.  Lighting designer Christopher Akerlind switches the mood by coloring the entire forest in green, violet, and later gray.  Stunning!  Director Gary Griffin adds to the visual spectacle with some startling movements.  Kicking off the show, Matt Schwader (Orlando) and Dennis Kelly (Adam) descend from the ceiling via a swing.  The imagery is carefree and poetic as these guys dangle with stringed apples in the orchard.   The reality is a little more spine tingling worrisome.  It continues with an intrepid Schwader hanging from and doing pull ups on the rafters. Wow!  Later, Schwader goes shirtless to wrestle Nathan Hosner (Charles).  Hot! Fight director David Woolley uses Schwader’s spry and smaller size to stage a highly energetic and entertaining match.  The Schwader stunt show is over early and the focus returns to the heart of the Shakespearean tale.

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AS YOU LIKE IT is one of Shakespearean classics with lots of characters in absurd situations.  As THE hallmark of Chicago Shakes, the talented cast delivers the story with plentiful comedic and dramatic moments.   Although enjoyable, this rendition felt a little flat for me.  Despite her efforts to engage, Kate Fry (Rosalind) never really seemed natural in this lead.  Chaon Cross (Celia), on the other hand, delivered a performance of subtle humor wrapped up in distinct verse interpretation . Cross outstandingly delivered the prose like ordinary conversation.  Even in scenes, she had few to no words, her facial expressions were scene stealing hysterical.  Loving Schwader’s seemingly effortless physicality and Cross’ organic sassy personality, I was rooting for Orlando to end up with Celia!  Ross Lehman (Jacques) also stood out as the sarcastic sidekick.  The entire large cast is a multiplication of fun-loving forest frolic.   AS YOU LIKE IT – I did LIKE it!

Someone who always gets ‘our jewels and our wealth together’ before going on trip, Jen’s lasting impression of the show is “sell when you can.”

Production photography courtesy of Liz Lauren.

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