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As You Like It                  American Players Theatre, 2010

William R. Wineke – Channel 3000.com

American Players Theatre opened its 2010 season Saturday with William Shakespeare’s As You Like It and, if that opening night production is indicative of the rest of the season, this is going to be a very good year.

The play, written in 1599 or 1600, is one of Shakespeare’s confusing comedies. It features two dukes, two daughters and two brothers.

Duke Frederick has usurped the office of his brother, Duke Senior, and banished Senior to the forest. Frederick’s daughter, Celia, is close to her cousin, Rosalind, daughter of Duke Senior. Oliver, one of the brothers, hates his brother, Orlando and tries to have him killed in a wrestling match. But Orlando prevails and, in the process, falls in love with Rosalind, just before Duke Frederick banishes Rosalind to the forest, where she takes on the disguise of a man.

It’s that kind of a plot. Just to add to the complexity, APT sets its production not in 17th century England but in the America of the 1930s. That’s the kind of thing that, unless done perfectly, is not going to work at all.

Fortunately, director Tim Ocel—making his first appearance in Spring Green—pulled it off. The production not only works, but the setting makes the plot seem more understandable than it has seemed in more traditional settings. He even managed to work in a song and dance number that might not have seemed suitable for the 17th century.

The casting was particularly helpful. Brian Mani, an APT stalwart for 12 seasons, played both dukes, portraying them as being only subtly different from one another. That Duke Frederick doesn’t come off as a complete black hat turns out to be helpful at the end, when his daughter marries a repentant Oliver and Orlando is united with Rosalind.

Orlando is played by Matt Schwader, who is beginning his fifth APT season, and who makes an unbelievable role—can he not really notice that Rosalind is in disguise?—believable.

But, every performance has to have its star and, personally, I fell in love with Hillary Clemens, who played Rosalind. She alternated between being hilariously funny and dramatically romantic. This is her first year with APT and she has the makings of a star.

Also making her first appearance with APT this year is Ashleigh LaThrop, who played a minor role as Phebe, a shepherdess who was also in love with Rosalind in drag. She is gorgeous and she was my wife’s favorite actress.

As You Like It will next be performed June 20. If you haven’t already planned to see it, change your mind.

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