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As You Like It

The Shakespeare Center of Los Angeles offers an intoxicating version of the Bard's classic comedy.

Diane Venora, Peter Cambor, Tony Abatemarco, Tessa Thompson, and Michael Dorn in As You Like It
(© Ed Krieger)
The 27-year-old Shakespeare Center of Los Angeles is offering a joyously entertaining outdoors staging of Shakespeare's rollicking romantic comedy, As You Like It under the summer stars, at the VA West Healthcare Center's Japanese Garden.

This gorgeous hillside background serves as an ideal representation of the play's fictional Forest of Arden, and this intoxicating environment, combined with Kenn Sabberton's spry direction and the spirited efforts of a seasoned cast, turns the Bard's magical farce into an evening of utter enchantment.

The modern-dress production is set in present-day L.A., suggesting contemporary governmental power struggles, corporate affluence, and family rivalry for money and power. The Garden of Arden, a campground that serves as a refuge for the exiled, comes vividly alive in Gary Wissmann's atmospheric scenic design.

Adding to the transformative mood are Trevor Norton's crisp lighting, Holly Poe Durbin's colorful costumes, and Adam Phalen's fine sound design. In addition, musical director Brian Joseph has composed a charming original score mixing a contemporary sensibility with classic folk style, and Gabriella Rhodeen provides simple but effective choreography.

The production's glittering star is Tessa Thompson, whose portrayal of the lovesick Rosalind is driven by warmth, wit, and deft comic timing. She captures the passion and dignity of the distressed but resourceful young woman who is desperately in love with the trouble-plagued Orlando (Peter Cambor). Perplexed about the true nature of love and the rocky road to romance, she's a plucky rom-com heroine with a Renaissance flair.

Cambor is likewise charming as Orlando, who asserts his resiliency, whether in the boxing ring or in a battle of wits, as he tries to retain the property bequeathed to him and usurped by his conniving brother Oliver (an appropriately despicable Andrew Schwartz). As another pair of dueling brothers, Michael Dorn excels as both tyrannical Duke Frederick and Rosalind's father, Duke Senior.

In an inspired bit of casting, Sabberton has tapped Shakespeare veteran Diane Verona to play exiled libertine Jacques. Casting against gender adds an interesting layer to this cross-dressing story, and Venora mines her eloquent speeches, such as the famous "All the World's a Stage" passage, for every ounce of humor and irony.

As court jester Touchstone, John Lavelle is a spry physical comedian, equally at home with rapid-fire banter and dexterous bits of shtick. Lindsay Rae Taylor sparkles as Celia, Rosalind's likewise lovestruck cousin and confidante. Lending superb support are Rhodeen and Amy Judd Lieberman as additional players of the mating game, plus Tony Ambatemarco, Shann Dornhecker, Brian Joseph, Jantzen Baldeck and McKinley Belcher III in multiple roles.

The play may be As You Like It, but the production is a midsummer night's dream, indeed.