Review: ‘As You Like It’ a comic romp
REVIEW BY JOHN BERGER / email@example.com
The story and dialog is Shakespeare. The staging and presentation comes from the fertile imagination of director Taurie Kinoshita. Assessed in terms of entertainment value the combination turns out to be a good balance indeed as the Hawaii Shakespeare Festival closes its 2013-2014 season — and completes its 12 year mission of presenting every play in the canon — with “As You Like It” through Sunday, Sept. 1, at the ARTS at Marks Garage.
‘As You Like It’
Presented by the Hawaii Shakespeare Festival
» Where: The ARTS at Marks Garage, 1159 Nuuanu Ave.
Ryan “Oki”naka and Nai‘a Aguirre lead an excellent cast through a well-paced modernist telling of several interlocking stories.
Here’s the overview: Duke Frederick (Jonathan “Fenix” Saavedra) has overthrown his older brother, Duke Senior (Andrew Lum), the rightful ruler of the dukedom. Duke Senior and a few loyal courtiers now live in the forest. Orlando (Patrick A. Karjala) is being unjustly treated by his older brother, Oliver (Chris Michaels), and goes to Duke Frederick seeking justice; when Frederick learns that Orlando is the son of a man who loyally served Duke Senor he banishes him from the dukedom. Orlando escapes to the forest with a loyal old servant (Scott Robertson) who has also been mistreated by Oliver
Frederick then orders his niece, Rosalind (Nai‘a Aguirre), Duke Senior’s daughter, to leave the dukedom on pain of death. She and Orlando fell in love at first sight during his brief time at court, and she decides to disguise herself as a man and go look for him. Frederick’s daughter, Celia (Mayakorina Cruz Jennings), decides to accompany her cousin Rosalinda on her search for Orlando. Rosalind and Celia convince Touchstone (Jonathan Reyn), the court jester or “fool,” to sneak away with them and go the forest.
Frederick goes ballistic when he learns that his daughter has snuck away with Rosalind. He summons Oliver to court, brutalizes him, and then orders him to bring Orlando back — dead or alive — to court.
Presiding over all these conflicts is Hymen (Ryan “Oki”naka), the god of marriage, who in Kinoshita’s staging of the play is both the emcee/observer and an active participant. “Oki”naka also portrays several secondary characters using sock puppets that he pulls out of his carry-all. One of “Oki”naka’s first sock puppet characters is the court wrestler who battles Orlando in what is apparently a fight to the death. “Oki”naka and Karjala make the epic battle dramatically believable. Given that the play is a Shakesperean comedy, Kinoshita and her properties designers — Michael Main and Jonathan Reyn — ensure that it ends on a suitably comic note.
This being Shakespeare, no one recognizes Rosalind as the young man who calls himself Ganymede — not even Orlando, not even when he and the young “man” are an inch away from a kiss. Oh well!
Aguirre, playing the heroine of the story, is endearing and imminently watchable in skirts and trousers alike. The scenes where Rosalind, disguised as Ganymede, offers to “help” Orlando escape his apparently hopeless love for Rosalind by treating him the way Rosalind eventually would if Orlando found her and married her — stay with me on this! — contain some of Aguirre’s best work in what is a large and demanding role (Costume designer Kim Shire adds a detail to Aguirre’s Ganymede garb that heightens to its dramatic impact).
Give Karjala credit due for making Orlando an unlikely but likable underdog to root for. Karjala shows us Orlando’s frustration at his brother’s unjust behavior, and his dogged never-say-die attitude in seeking Rosalind’s hand, in convincing style. His give-and-take with Aguirre when she’s playing Ganymede-playing-Rosalind rounds out the implausible comic elements of the situation.
And there’s more: Danielle Zalopany (Phebe) rounds out another comic relationship with her wide-eyed portrayal of a haughty country girl who falls in love with Ganymede the first time she sees “him.”
Kinoshita gets well-rounded performances from a small galaxy of other talented actors. Robertson, for example, is a known quanity in local theater and lives up to expectations playing the loyal old servant. Owen Bleach (Jaques), visiting this summer from England, owns several scenes with his commanding delivery of Jaques’ lengthy discourses on the general unfairness and dismal nature of life.
Also not be overlooked are Bronte Amoy (Audrey) as the obtuse country girl Touchstone sets out to seduce, and Michael Main (Silvius) as the hapless shepherd so hopelessly in love with Phebe that he accepts all the ill-treatment she dishes out to him.
Kinoshita and her tech crew punch up the action and add comic embellishments in too many ways to mention. There are countless sight gags and props — a mishap with a bird being one of the broadest. When couples fall in love at first sight the stage is bathed in red light, snippets of modern pop and rock music hits are used to indicate various emotions, and several members of the audience will something to eat if they’re bold enough to ask for it.
Anachronisms can often be distractions when island theater groups do Shakespeare and the work of other pre-modern playwrights. This time they work.
Kinoshita’s take on Shakespeare is Shakespeare as we like it. This time, anyway.
John Berger has been a mainstay in the local entertainment scene for more than 40 years. Contact him via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.