With so many Shakespeare stagings every year, its understandable that theaters try new angles and themes. In Burning Coal Theatre Companys As You Like It, seven actors play 22 parts to demonstrate that everyone has varying personas.
This concept brings on boisterous physical comedy and allows actors to show off but limits the variety of the characterizations and sometimes veers into gimmickry. But the gamely willing cast makes it more and more convincing as the evening progresses.
Jade Arnold reveals newfound comic chops as Orlando with his hyperventilating over Rosalind. Hes hysterically funny playing wrestler Charles and Orlando at the same time in a grueling match and shows off range as the nerdy county lad, William. As Rosalind, Rebecca Bossen beautifully enunciates her lines, making her Rosalind sweet and her cross-dressed male persona laughably swaggering. Lori Mahl gives Rosalinds confidante Celia a sassy edge and the eager shepherdess Phebe a rambunctious intensity. Tom McCleister doesnt make much of either the Duke or his brother Frederick, but has a goofy cameo as a hippy clergyman. Steph Scribner plays several males only adequately but brings some sexy fun to the country wench, Audrey.
Jeff Aguiar has a mirth-filled scene as old and young shepherds in the same conversation, as well as amusingly embodying the amorous Sylvius, who moons over Phebe, and the pompous Oliver, Orlandos evil brother. The productions most impressive aspect is John Allores two clown-philosophers, sharp-tongued Touchstone and moody Jaques. Allore makes them distinct personalities, often one dissolving one into the other with just a change of jacket. Add in his turn as elderly servant Adam and you have a tour de force.
Director Mark Sutch puts this gentle, bucolic comedy in a vaguely modern setting, the rough costuming seemingly from used clothing stores, as though a troupe of struggling actors are staging the play. But Natalie Taylor Harts formal-looking settings of beige-colored platforms and posts, along with a backdrop unit of movable, interlocking blocks, doesnt particularly jibe with that idea.
The sober first act takes a long time to engage but the second act blossoms into a warm, entertaining romp. Sutch devises some very clever moments but also some silly and distracting ones, which this cast helps to forgive.