“As You Like It” is Arden's Shakespearean signature. Penned by The Bard in 1600, the pastoral comedy follows its heroine Rosalind as she flees persecution in her uncle's court, accompanied by her cousin Celia and Touchstone the court jester, to find safety and eventually love in the leafy green forest of ...drum roll if you please....Arden!
A mere three hundred years later, The Village of Arden was founded by Frank Stephens and architect Will Price, with financial help from Joseph Fels, the soap manufacturer. Legend has it that Stephens and Price began annual Shakespeare plays on The Green to educate the residents in diction.
In this open air production – a perfect setting for the celebration of love – and before an opening night packed house, diction awards would go to Celia (Kerry Kristine McElrone). Of all the players, Aisle Say has seen her on other local stages, both dramatic and comedic and has always been struck by the depth of her characterizations. .
McElrone's stage presence and experience were of inestimable service to Rosalind (Melissa Kearney), our comely and passionate hero/heroine. Hero/heroine you say? It's one issue taking on your first leading role in Shakespearean prose. Kearney, though, had to don the demeanors of both sexes. When Rosalind escapes the death threat of her evil uncle Duke Frederick (James Kassees), she assumes the male persona of Ganymede. Kearney has a formidable role and is very impressive in her first lead in the area. She is undeniably the most beauteous cross dresser in Arden's theatrical history.
This comedy abounds in both love and high spirits. Orlando (James Kiesel) loves Rosalind. Kiesel assumes his athletically challenging role with jest. Rosalind, in love with Orlando, meets him as Ganymede and pretends to counsel him to cure him of being in love. Ganymede says "he" will take Rosalind's place and "he" and Orlando can act out their relationship. Hijinks ensue.
Kiesel is aggressive in his dialog with men but balances that with sentimentalized affectations in referring to his love for Rosalind.
One of the most famous monologues in mankind, “All the world's a stage, and all men and women are merely actors”, etc, contains arresting imagery and figures of speech to develop the central metaphor: a person's lifespan being a play in seven acts. This is spoken by Jacques (Carl Heyde). One would have wished more passion and theatricality in this so very poetic dissertation.
Shakespeare employed 'fools' to be that which they were not: purveyors of pith and profundity. Touchstone (Dan Tucker) delivered this wit deliciously and the audience was forever longing for his next intrusion of practical wisdom.
The production is long. In Shakespearean terms, all the troubadouring could have been lessened by half...if not two thirds. Director Mary Catherine Kelley has helmed the shows for many years and should be mindful of the audience on unforgiving wooden benches. That said, guitarist Rob Tietze is a genuine asset to the proceedings. He is joined (in costume) by Emily Loney (oboe and piccolo) and Melanie Riblett (flute). The trio imbues a Renaissance revelry on a beautiful summer night.
Until June 26. ArdenClub.org 320.475.3126 In case of rain, go to the Gild Hall across Harvey Rd.