Maryland Morning
8:50 am
Mon July 7, 2014

"As You Like It" at Chesapeake Shakespeare Company

Vince Eisenson and Blythe Coons in "As You Like It."
Credit Teresa Castracane
J. Wynn Rousuck reviews Chesapeake Shakespeare's production of As you Like It.

Maryland Morning theater critic J. Wynn Rousuck has been to see Chesapeake Shakespeare Company’s production of “As You Like It.” 

It continues in the Patapsco Female Institute Historic Park in Ellicott City through July 20.

The Rousuck Review: “As You Like It" 

It’s snowing in summer in the ruins of the Patapsco Female Institute in Ellicott City. A snowball fight is one of the most charming elements in Chesapeake Shakespeare Company’s outdoor production of “As You Like It.”

The snowball fight – with actual snowballs -- introduces us to the character of a usurped duke, who is living in the Forest of Arden with a band of followers. It’s a stretch, but the snowball fight enhances the playful, carefree nature of their existence, and the snow fits the song at the end of the scene, sung here by composer and company member Daniel O’Brien.

This music has an Elizabethan flair. But Chesapeake Shakespeare’s eclectic production also includes a prominent modern-day musical element. Director Patrick Kilpatrick opens the show with the full cast singing “Stuck on You,” a song by the pop singer, Meiko. 

 Incorporating this pop song may be more of a stretch than snowballs, but it’s another charming touch. The song crops up whenever two characters fall in love at first sight – a fairly frequent event.  

We hear “Stuck on You” again when the play’s heroine, Rosalind, meets her love interest, Orlando. And we hear it several times in the Forest of Arden, where most of the play takes place. Rosalind and Orlando independently seek sanctuary in the forest -- unaware that they’ve both wound up in the same neck of the woods. 

“As You Like It” is one of Shakespeare’s comedies in which everyone winds up in the woods and romances become entangled as the wrong people fall in love -- in this case, in part, because Rosalind has disguised herself as a man for safety’s sake. 

Eventually, Rosalind works out her own love life, correctly aligns three other couples, and helps mend feuds between two sets of brothers. 

Blythe Coons starts out promising as Rosalind, but as the production continues, she tends to race through her lines, sacrificing text.

Vince Eisenson plays her true love, Orlando, with a fine, natural command of Shakespeare’s language. He’s even expressive when Rosalind’s mere presence renders him speechless.

The idea of a woman playing a man could be one reason the director cast an actress, Jenny Leopold, in the traditionally male role of Jaques, the melancholy attendant to the usurped duke. The actress may wear widow’s weeds, but her Jaques is more of a cheerful philosopher than a dark presence -- even when she delivers the play’s most famous speech.

Jaques’ casting and demeanor is one of the unusual elements that doesn’t quite work. In addition, there’s some confusing multi-casting. The costumes have an Edwardian look – think “Downton Abbey” – for reasons that also aren’t entirely clear. And there are a few cases of overacting. 

In the end, Chesapeake Shakespeare Company’s “As You Like It” is a bit of a mash-up – a late 16th century play in early 20th century dress with a 21st century theme song. But somehow – particularly on a beautiful summer night -- most of it comes together. And, hey ho, who could resist a snowball fight in July!

-- J. Wynn Rousuck