AS YOU LIKE IT presented by Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park through Nov. 6. You can read the show description here.
A formula for success. Take one of Shakespeare’s most performed plays, directed by not one, but two of our strongest local directors, stack the cast with a veritable who’s who of past Playhouse performers paired with perfectly cast actors in their debuts, choose an imaginative concept for the production which is embraced by the set (Joseph P. Tilford), lighting (Thomas C. Hase) and costume (Susan Tsu) designers; all coming together in the intimate setting of the Shelterhouse Theatre.
What elevates this production even further is that all cast and crew member are working so hard to make every aspect of this production perfect. For them, it is an obvious labor of love to thank and honor Ed Stern in directing his final production as Playhouse’s Artistic Director.
Themes in the play mimic the current state of the world. The pursuit of money for the sake of the power it brings, (no matter how it causes others to suffer) versus ideals like family unity, community, the reward of working hard, and the virtues of loyalty, honor and forgiveness. The “meeting” of Orlando and Duke Senior is my favorite of many such moments.
The concept for this production is reminiscent of the cable series, “Carnivàle.” Touchstone, the court fool is the side show barker and Charles, Duke Frederick’s wrestler is the strong man, just to give examples. What’s fun is that aspects of their carney personas manifest in their characterizations, enhancing the characters without being distracting.
Stand-outs in the excellent ensemble include Alvin Keith as Orlando, Joneal Joplin as Adam, Francesca Choy-Kee as Celia, Sarah Dandridge as Rosalind, David Graham Jones as Touchstone, Brendan Averett as Corin, Michael Murnoch as Amiens and Matt D’Amico as Jaques.
The humor of the play is also smartly emphasized. Congratulations to the actors and directors on some very entertaining choices in face, voice and body language. What also works well is the contemporary props and line deliveries peppered throughout the show. Their use is smartly chosen and brief which prevents it from becoming a gimmick.
Bottom line, AS YOU LIKE IT is mesmerizing. Not only is this production one of my favorites of the season, but one that will stand out in my memory for years to come. A enchanting production filled with love, thanks and wisdom from Ed Stern to his audience.
If you arrive early for your performance, be sure to visit the wall display between the two Shelterhouse Theatre doors. It’s a great informational montage of previous performances at the Playhouse by members of the AS YOU LIKE IT cast. You can also leave a note for departing Artistic Director Ed Stern in a guest book, located on the desk in the main lobby, near the Tony Award.
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