by Lynn on August 16, 2022

in The Passionate Playgoer

Live and in person at the Amphatheatre, in High Park, Toronto, Ont., Canadian Stage presents, until Sept. 4, 2022.

Written by William Shakespeare

Directed by Anand Rajaram

Set, costumes and props by Shadowland Theatre

Lighting by Logan Raju Cracknell

Sound by Richard Feren

Music by: Serena Ryder, Kiran Ahluwalia Lacey Hill and Maryem Toller

Cast: Marty Adams

Maja Ardal

Astrid Atherly

Mairi Babb

Leigh Cameron

Belinda Corpuz

Shawn DeSouza-Coelho

Bren Eastcott

Ken Hall

Dylan Roberts

Paolo Santalucia

Eric Woolfe

Joyous! Whimsy on steroids.

The Story. There are some nasty doings between siblings in Shakespeare’s As You Like It about forgiveness and finding love in the oddest places. Orlando is the youngest son of the late Sir Rowland de Boys. Orlando’s older brother, Oliver was responsible for Orlando’s education as a gentleman. Oliver reneged on the responsibility and Orlando is furious.

Duke Frederick forced his brother Duke Senior out of ruling and away from the kingdom. Duke Senior went with some followers to the Forest of Arden where he found sanctuary, the bounty of the forest and a community of like-minded people to live together in harmony.

Rosalind lives in the palace even though Duke Frederick banished her father, Duke Senior. Her closest friend is her cousin Celia, Duke Frederick’s daughter. But then Duke Frederick banishes Rosalind as well. So she and Celia decide to leave the palace and seek Rosalind’s father in the Forest of Arden. For safety’s sake Rosalind disguises herself as a young man who will go by the name Ganymede.

Before they have to leave Rosalind sees Orlando in a wrestling match and is smitten. He sees her and the feelings are returned. When they meet again, it’s in the Forest of Arden where Orlando has fled for safety from his brother, and of course this time Rosalind is disguised as a young man. It seems that Orlando has been writing poems to Rosalind and sticking them on trees, although he was too shy to tell her how he felt. Rosalind finds the poems and offers to show Orlando how to woo his Rosalind, if ever he sees her again.

The Production. The Amphitheatre in High Park is the most magical setting for a romantic play like As You Like It. The audience sits on a hill that is terraced for easy sitting. The multi-leveled wood stage nestles at the bottom of the hill, and beyond that are old, lush trees that are beautiful as the sun sets and the moon rises.  

Director Anand Rajaram wanted to make the production equally accessible for Shakespeare devotees as for Shakespeare novices. To that end Shadowland Theatre has created a set of glorious colourful flowers that tower over the back of the space and the characters and create a world of beauty, colour and life. The costumes take on a neon dazzle as well. Many characters have collars ringed with what looks like flower petals that then make the characters look like they might be flowers themselves. It’s whimsy on steroids and it works a treat.

The language is a mix of Shakespeare’s words and often more colloquial language for easy comprehension.  The play has been cut to a swift 90 minutes without loosing any of the story or the ideas on love, family, community and forgiveness. And Rajaram has fiddled with some of the characters and speeches.

In Shakespeare’s original version of As You Like It Orlando has an old servant named Adam who follows him into the Forest of Arden. In Anand Rajaram’s version that character is now named Eve and is played by the quirky and wondrous Maja Ardal who instills such thoughtfulness and humour into her performance. She summons people to gather by blowing a Conch (sounds almost like a Shofar). Eve is a faithful servant/companion to Orlando and for this version, Anand Rajaram has given her the “Seven Ages of Man” speech to say (in the Shakespeare’s original play the melancholy Jacques says the speech). Here Maja Ardal illuminates the wisdom of age and experience into this speech that itemizes the seven ages of man from infancy to old age. Beautiful.  

Orlando is played with boyish verve by Paolo Santalucia. He is irate and wounded when he notes that his brother has kept him as an unschooled homebody. He is very shy and awkward when he sees Rosalind (Bren Eastcott). He knows he likes her but just can’t find the words to tell her properly. When he does meet her in the forest, he doesn’t recognize her because she’s dressed as a young boy. Here Santalucia has the confidence of a young man and stands up for his place in the world. He gives over to pretending to woo this young boy as if ‘he’ is Rosalind. As Rosalind, Bren Eastcott is a confident woman who knows her worth and place in the world and stands her ground. She also knows that her heart has been touched by Orlando and wants him in her life. The conversations between the two are gentle, caring and thoughtful. Beautifully done.

Anand Rajaram has created a striking world of such community in As You Like It. One scene in particular stands out. Orlando and Eve are hungry when they enter the Forest of Arden. Eve in particular is starving and close to perishing. In a lovely bit of humor, she lies down on the ground to rest just down from a tombstone that happens to be there. Orlando promises to come back with food. He happens on to the camp of Duke Senior and his loyal followers, about to tuck into a feast of game, fruit and vegetables all hunted or foraged in the Forest. He threatens the Duke and his followers with violence if they don’t give him the food first. One senses the angst and anger of the city has affected Orlando’s behaviour and sticks to him in the Forest. Duke Senior and his followers in turn have changed into a community of caring, giving, generous people in that Forest and invite Orlando to eat and take what he wants. Only then does he tell the assembled of Eve and they insist he get her so she can eat too. In this open-hearted production that scene just resonates.

The comedy work is also buoyant throughout. Special mention:  Marty Adams is devoted and a bit dim as Silvius. Silvius’ intended is a wonderfully lively Leigh Cameron as Phoebe; Eric Woolfe is hilarious and obstreperous as Touchstone, and Astrid Atherly as Celia is impish as Rosalind’s loyal cousin. The whole cast is fine.

Comment. This is the return to doing Shakespeare in High Park after being absent because of the pandemic. It’s a joyous return and gives a lovely, lively spin to the play. Something truly for everyone.

Canadian Stage Company presents:

Plays until: September 4, 2022.

Running time: 90 minutes, approx. (no intermission)

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