Julia Campanelli, Elisabeth Ahrens,
Natalie Lebert and Virginia Baeta
in As You Like It
(© Bob Pileggi)
Julia Campanelli, Elisabeth Ahrens,
Natalie Lebert and Virginia Baeta
in As You Like It
(© Bob Pileggi)
Shakespeare's plays were originally performed by men only, and productions of the Bard's work with all-male casts continue with some frequency even to this day. Far rarer are productions featuring all-female casts, such as The Queen's Company's enjoyable staging of As You Like It, now at Walkerspace.

The play, directed by Rebecca Patterson, proves to be an ideal choice for an all-female treatment, as cross-dressing already plays a prominent part in the plot. The show's heroine, Rosalind (Elisabeth Ahrens), puts on male garments and passes herself off as a young man named Ganymede after she is banished from the court by Duke Frederick (Julia Campanelli).

Rosalind is accompanied in her exile by her cousin Celia (Annie Paul) and the clown Touchstone (Natalie Lebert). Also fleeing the court is the play's hero, Orlando (Virginia Baeta), who has fallen in love with Rosalind following a brief meeting early in the play. When the two meet up again in the Forest of Arden, Rosalind posing as Ganymede offers to help the lovestruck Orlando to cope with his situation by pretending to be his love Rosalind, and to teach him how to woo.

There's a suggestion in Baeta's performance that Orlando is actually cognizant of Ganymede's true identity, but is playing along regardless. It's an interesting choice, and the smoldering stage chemistry between Baeta and Ahrens helps to make it work.

Patterson and her actors have made some other bold choices with this production, but not all of them seem justified. The most egregious is the way Touchstone is treated in the second act -- which is not only a radical departure from Shakespeare's play, but involves such a drastic tonal shift that it threatens to derail the comedy.

The cast's ability to speak Shakespeare's verse convincingly varies widely. Baeta and Ahrens both do well enough, although the standout performances come from Paul as Celia and Tiffany Abercrombie in the role of Phoebe. Each of these women has a way of delivering a line that wrings the maximum amount of humor from it, without sacrificing its inherent musicality.

Some of the other players do not fare as well -- particularly Lebert, who doubles as the melancholy Jaques and is unable to do justice to the famous "seven ages of man" speech. Campanelli, who plays not only Duke Frederick but also his banished brother Duke Senior, also seems to have difficulty making Shakespeare's words flow as smoothly as they should.

Anna Lacivita's costumes -- some of which are rather unflattering -- suggest that the play's action for this production has been shifted to the 1970s. However, it's never really clear why this change has been made, or what it adds to the show. Moreover, the music selections -- which include a fully choreographed routine to the 1980s hit "(I've Had) The Time of My Life" -- don't even keep to the same time frame.

Still, there remains much to admire in The Queen's Company's As You Like It, and the all-female casting gives a fresh spin to this oft-produced comedy.