Written by Alina Mae Wilson
“Old stuff is so boring“. So sayeth thousands of high schoolers and a good chunk of the adult population. Shakespeare is not for everyone for obvious reasons. It take a special actor to make the aristocracy of the Elizabethan era relatable. But if ever there was a troop to perform a long-winded play in vivid excellence, it would be the production of Shakespeare OC’s As You Like It. I don’t know how it could possibly be better.
We begin the play in a prosperous dukedom, ruled by the much loved Duke Senior. His happiness is short lived however, when his brother Duke
Frederick usurps him from the throne and exiles him to a forest. Duke Senior’s daughter Rosalind remains at court as the dear companion of her cousin Celia. When the two girls grow into fair young maidens they meet a young man named Orlando who is driven from his home by the abuse of his malicious older brother Oliver. Rosalind and Orlando fall in love and are separated to meet again later. When Duke Frederick throws a tantrum for no reason other than that Rosalind is well-liked by the people, Rosalind finds herself banished. She and her cousin Celia decide to flee together, with Rosalind disguised as a handsome man named Ganymede and Celia as an impoverished woman called Aliena. They bring the court fool along with them and while disguised run into strangers, lovers, and banished family members.
Nothing onstage is for pure decoration, absolutely every inch of it is used to maximum benefit. Even the rock well on stage is perfectly utilized in several scenes. Since the stage is teeming with people climbing on trees and charging up steps, the audience is kept alert for the majority of the show. It’s worth mentioning that despite the long cast list (37 strong) the blocking never once looks sloppy. One of my favorite scenes in the show involves most of the cast serving as spectators at a wrestling match in a very creative way.
The acting is well done by all parties involved, but the star of the show is undeniably Josh Odsess-Rubin who plays Rosalind/Ganymede. Rubin’s Rosalind is vulnerable, creative, and giddy with love for Orlando. In short, he is everything one could want Rosalind to be. This is actually a first in my theater experiences. In a time when such emphasis is placed on being as a realistic as possible, it is fascinating to see a play with even a fraction of this historical truth-that women at the time were played by men. All of the other women in the show are played by women, but still, this is something unexpected. Equally worthy of note is the fact that his gender is not played up for laughs-anymore than could be expected. This is as serious as a portrayal of a man playing a woman who is pretending to be a man as one could ever hope to see.