February 13, 2015
As You Like It @ Alley Theatre
Houston Press article
Interview with Elizabeth Bunch
Now, it wasn't the best As You Like It I've ever seen. That honor still belongs to the 2010 version at the Globe, which starred Naomi Frederick as Rosalind (link to DVD).
It was, however, the second-best I've ever seen. (Even if they did cut the priest scene, which I love.)
As You Like It lives and dies by its Rosalind, and Elizabeth Bunch puts on a physically comedic, near manic performance. She's quite the overwhelming force. Emily Trask makes her Alley debut as Rosalind's cousin Celia and proves to have talents for comedy, song, and dance. She and Elizabeth bounce off of each other beautifully. As for Chris Hutchinson as Orlando ... he gets to deliver some good lines. I felt like he was at max intensity all the time, perhaps in an attempt to match Rosalind and hide that he was too old for the part.
The other parts were quite well done, especially Jay Sullivan (Le Beau; Silveus), Melissa Pritchett (Phebe), Nicole Rodenburg (Audrey), and James Black as Jacques. At the TalkBack the cast said they weren't aiming for a naturalistic style, but I found that they fell into it sometimes. It does happen in As You Like It, which makes far more use of prose than most of Shakespeare's plays (especially for Rosalind). As for one decision I really liked, they made Audrey a bit of a fool-apprentice to Touchstone at the end, which takes some of the sting out of him duping her into marriage to take her virginity.
The set design, music, and choreography were all fantastic. There are a lot of big entrances, a Brechtian half curtain, booming percussion, song interludes, and movement that fits each character. The costumes for the court are amazing - black, white, and silver dresses, doublets, and hose evoking 1599 Spain. The costumes for the Forest of Arden are more that of a modern hipster, which instantly shows the divide between the two settings. I did feel that Rosalind's costume as Ganymede was a bit baffling. I loved that she removed layers, scene by scene, as she came closer to unveiling her disguise. But I was bemused that every single piece seemed to be of feminine cut.
There are, of course, scenes cut to fit the play into a two-hour running time. There is also some rearrangement of scenes so that all of the Arden scenes come after the court scenes. There was one move that bothered me, because I think it messed with the directorial vision that the play is dark until Rosalind enters the forest. But I do think it probably made the play easier to follow for those in the audience unfamiliar with the story.
If you're looking for a humorous and romantic night on the town in Houston, look no farther than As You Like It at the Alley Theatre, featuring their resident company. It runs through February 22nd.