Before the lights have even gone down, the six members of the cast burst onto the thrust stage (well, it's really more like a big, rectangular floor) of the Public's Martinson Hall to begin the play. Any doubts the viewer may have about a mere six people being able to fill all of the roles in Shakespeare's popular comedy appear to be immediately validated when cast member Lorenzo Pisoni begins, alone, to act out an argument between brothers Orlando and Oliver -- except that he pulls it off brilliantly. Still doubtful? A little coup de théâtre involving a bowler hat and a back flip will soon change your mind.
For those unfamiliar with the play, a quick plot synopsis: Orlando (Pisoni), son of a wealthy landowner, and Rosalind (Bryce Dallas Howard), daughter of exiled Duke Senior (Drew Cortese), meet briefly and fall in love. Then the mean Duke Frederick (Cortese) banishes Orlando to the Forest of Arden, going on to banish Rosalind, who decides to pose as a man in order to maintain her safety in the forest. Rosalind's best friend, Celia (Lethia Nall), joins her in banishment, and the pair are accompanied by court jester Touchstone (Johnny Giacalone). Rosalind and Celia, as well as Orlando, meet all kinds of crazy characters in the forest, including the shepherd Silvius (Cortese), the shepherdess Phebe (Jennifer Ikeda), the country girl Audrey (Ikeda), the malcontent Jacques (Giacalone), and the kind Duke Senior. Eventually, Rosalind and Orlando are reunited in the forest -- but she's a man now, which presents a slight problem. After lots of silliness, mixed-up love matches, changes of heart, and many laughs, everything is straightened out and all ends well.
Adapted by Erica Schmidt (who conceived the musical stage version of the porn flick Debbie Does Dallas), As You Like It is blessed with a gifted sextet of actors who scurry around with energy and conviction, never getting winded and, happily, never exhausting the audience. Though director Schmidt keeps the show moving quickly -- it's under two hours, with no intermission -- she knows not to rush the more tender scenes. She even readily acknowledges the "hit" status of Jacques's melancholy "All the world's a stage" speech by bringing out the full cast to help present the revered monologue.
This As You Like It, with its downtown pedigree, is a great way to kick off the traditionally Shakespeare-heavy summer season. Without relying on the barrage of contemporary references and lewd gestures often employed to "modernize" Shakespeare, Schmidt and her actors offer a fresh approach to the play that is well worth seeing.