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As You Like It                  American Players Theatre, 2010

Michael Muckian – Express Milwaukee

American Players Theatre’s past attempts to cash in on creative license haven’t always worked as planned, sometimes resulting in forced attempts at new window dressing in hopes of making William Shakespeare more relevant.

However, if those artistic misfires were what it took for first-time APT director Tim Ocel to cast As You Like It in the trappings of America’s Great Depression, then it was worth the years of foam and froth. The three-hour production opened APT’s 31st season Saturday in Spring Green with exceptional style and swagger, resulting in a comedic broth bubbling with both foolishness and wisdom.

Shakespeare’s play seems unusually contrived. Duke Senior is banished from court by conniving younger brother Frederick (both played by Brian Mani) and wanders homeless with a band of followers in the forests of Arden. Frederick also banishes his niece Rosalind (APT newcomer Hillary Clemens) after she falls for Orlando (Matt Schwader), a son of Frederick’s mortal enemy. The pair play out their romance, with Rosalind disguised as a boy, amid a gaggle of philosophers, fools and farmers who populate the forest and its environs.

The long, complicated scenario breezes along as performers rise to the occasion, offering one highlight after another. Scene-stealers David Daniel and Colleen Madden do brilliant turns as the fool Touchstone and his lover Audrey amid music, dancing and even a wrestling match. As Rosalind, a bright and lively Clemens steals the show, winning hearts among the characters as well as in the audience. Don’t miss this one.

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