It's not always fun being a critic. Sure, I get to see everything for free, but I have to see everything. Think about that. Often, I find myself defaming the earnest efforts of friends. At auditions-I still act a few times a year-I'm competing against, and for, people who have extra reasons to hope I fall on my face. Yet I persevere for two reasons: first, I believe South Sound theater is good enough to merit, and benefit from, professional criticism. Second, few things give me greater pleasure than extolling the virtues of a show you might not care about otherwise: Distracted at OLT, for example, where I'm told my rave boosted attendance.
As You Like It at South Puget Sound Community College is one of those shows. Despite a beautiful poster, large cast, and obvious name recognition, only about two dozen people showed up for opening night. We lucky few were treated to two and a half hours of comedy the Bard himself would've loved.
A couple of forest-green actors notwithstanding, director James Van Leishout's production isn't good for community college theater, it'd be good almost anywhere. Van Leishout's fairytale set and Matt Lawrence's primary-colored light scheme make beautiful music together, an accompaniment to the Elizabethan street music played in the lobby and throughout. Alyssa McElfresh and Vanessa Postil add their beautiful voices to Shakespeare's lyrics. In short, As You Like It is lovely to see and hear.
Van Leishout says he was inspired by "Charles the Wrestler's" line about Robin Hood, but I saw a lot of Shrek in his production. Arden Forest looks like a neighborhood of Far Far Away, where castles are pop-up facades and every ingénue dresses like Sleeping Beauty. It's a wonderful concept in that it allows us to forget verisimilitude and tune into the magic of Elizabethan language.
As You Like It is a pastoral comedy, which means it's basically a bunch of well-meaning knuckleheads falling in love in the woods. But it's also a riff on gender identity; for, as in Twelfth Night, a woman in drag generates pansexual attractions and comic misunderstandings. This gives our transvestite protagonist, Rosalind, and Shakespeare himself, a chance to comment on their (and our) society's assumptions about women. Critic Harold Bloom believes Rosalind is nearly as deep and fascinating a character as Hamlet. Actor Brandee Medeiros makes a solid case for Rosalind's intelligence; if I have one small quibble about her work here, it's that her vocal restraint keeps some of the jokes from landing.
Not so Lake Konopaski as Touchstone the fool. His agile performance channels the ghost of Jim Carrey's career. He's the real deal. I enjoyed Helen Raines's Celia, a study in Gen-Y eye-rolling, and Alexander Bergman's sniggering, simpering Le Beau. John Murphy's Duke Frederick reminds me of a de-Cajunized, irascible James Carville, and Brian Jansen plays Jacques (of the famous "all the world's a stage" speech) as an armchair philosopher in desperate need of a Paxil. I found myself dreaming of an alternate Arden in which Jacques and Rosalind might live-say it with me, folks-happily ever after. How perfect would that be?
[South Puget Sound Community College, As You Like It, $10-$15, Thurs.-Sat. 8 p.m., Sun. 2 p.m. through May 27, 2011 Mottman Rd SW, Olympia, 360.