As You Like It Jams At Colorado Shakespeare Festival

In a duchy, somewhere in France, there is a magical place called the Forest of Arden. Arden doesn’t have the magic of a fairyland, but rather a real magic, a rustic, peaceful magic which transforms all strangers who enter it, and where a local sheepherder can say with simple honesty:

“Sir, I am a true labourer: I earn that I eat, get that I
wear; owe no man hate, envy no man’s happiness; glad of other
men’s good, content with my harm; and the greatest of my pride is
to see my ewes graze and my lambs suck.”

Frederick – the younger brother of the rightful Duke of this duchy – has usurped his brother’s position and exiled him and his court. Now, the former Duke and his loyal nobles – including the melancholy Jacques – live a pastoral life in Arden.

The late Roland De Boys had three sons, Oliver, Jacques (not to be confused with the Duke’s Jacques), and Orlando. Oliver hates his youngest brother for reasons he himself does not understand, and keeps him in a “mean” condition. The frustrated Orlando demands his inheritance so he can create a life for himself elsewhere. Oliver pretends to agree but has other plans. Orlando enters a wrestling competition at Frederick’s court to earn money. He wins, attracting the attention of the fair Rosalind, and the disfavor of Frederick, because Roland De Boys was an enemy of his. Learning of his brother’s plot against his life, the now love-struck Orlando and an aged servant flee to Arden.

Frederick had allowed his brother’s daughter, Rosalind, to remain at court because she was a great friend of his own daughter, Celia. When Rosalind shows favor to Orlando, the furious Frederick exiles her as well. His daughter Celia vows to accompany her on her exile. Rosalind dresses as a young man – Ganymede, Celia dresses as a country girl, Aliena, and with their servant Touchstone, they set out for Arden.

When Frederick learns of his daughter’s disappearance, he summons Oliver to court and orders him to find his daughter and bring her back, on pain of forfeiting all his lands if he fails. Oliver too sets out for Arden.

Arden is a happenin’ place, and what happens is hilarious and happy-making.

Garage-Jam

Garage jam: Jihad Milhem, Seth Dhonau, Emily Van Fleet, Shute Lofton, Josh Innerst, John Hutton Sean Michael Cummings and Leslie O’Carroll. Photo courtesy Colorado Shakespeare Festival

In a duchy, somewhere in France, there is a magical place called the Forest of Arden. Arden doesn’t have the magic of a fairyland, but rather a real magic, a rustic, peaceful magic which transforms all strangers who enter it, and where a local sheepherder can say with simple honesty:

“Sir, I am a true labourer: I earn that I eat, get that I
wear; owe no man hate, envy no man’s happiness; glad of other
men’s good, content with my harm; and the greatest of my pride is
to see my ewes graze and my lambs suck.”

There are no trees in director Carolyn Howarth’s Arden. Instead, the lovesick Orlando chalks his love for Rosalind on the brick columns and walls of a huge garage – a garage where a country-western music group has finished jamming and  whimsically segues into the story of As You Like It.

There are also only eight members in the band, so there are only eight actors in the play, which means that every actor must embody at least two and sometimes even more roles. This makes the Howarth’s As You Like It an even more fun a production than it normally is. One of the fun things about repertory companies, from the audience’s point of view – is to see an actor play a comedic role one day and a tragic role the next. But in this production, the versatility of each actor is on display in the same production.

Orlando, expecting rough treatment from the strangers living in Arden, is ready for a fight

Orlando, expecting savageness from the forest dwellers, is ready for a fight. (Leslie O’Carroll as Jaques, Josh Innerst as Amiens, John Hutton as the rightful Duke, Sean Michael Cummings and Jihad Milhem as loyal followers, and Seth Dhonau as Orlando).  Photo courtesy Colorado Shakespeare Festival

We first meet Josh Innerst as Adam, an aged and infirm servant of the De Boys family who faithfully accompanies Orlando to the Forest of Arden. Innerst also plays the exuberant clown, Touchstone, who accompanies Rosalind and Celia to Arden, where he will later have a hilarious courtship of the innocent, but not-so-young shepherdess, Audrey.

Jihad Milhem, clad in black leather, is appropriately villainous as Oliver, Orlando’s vengeful older brother. In addition to a member of the rightful Duke’s court, Milhelm is also a delight as Corin, the rustic but wise shepherd who looks with bemusement upon the posturing Touchstone. Milhem’s “cowboyish” type posture and way of speaking as Corin is completely different from that of the arrogant Oliver.

DiAliena

Jihad Milhem as Corin, Shunte Lofton as Celia (in disguise as Aliena), Josh Innerst as Touchstone and Emily Van Fleet as Rosalind in her disguise as Ganymede. Photo courtesy Colorado Shakespeare Festival

Leslie O’Carroll is a delight in her three roles, as Le Beau – a courtier at Frederick’s court who warns Orlando of Frederick’s ire; as the melancholic Jacques – whose red derby hat hints at a cheerful nature that is completely at odds with her stately tread, stately voice, and languishing bench-seated posture; and as Phebe, a shepherdess who has no redeeming qualities.

Sean Michael Cummings plays the brutish wrestler, Charles, a lord in the exiled duke’s court, and Silvius, a not-too-bright shepherd in love with Phebe.

John Hutton plays the exiled Duke, and the Duke’s brother, Frederick, to perfection. As Frederick he  is cold, with a clipped English accent and a stiff manner. The Duke is more easy-going, with a slightly less formal accent and a more cheerful demeanor. Hutton also plays another role, which will come as a hilarious shock to those people who don’t scan the cast list of a play before it begins. He plays that role to perfection, too!

Shunte Lofton as Celia as Aliena is shocked - shocked - at Rosalind's (Emily Van Fleet) flirtatious behavior to Orlando (Seth Donau) as Ganymede pretending to be Rosalind

Shunte Lofton as Celia, as Aliena, is shocked at Rosalind’s (Emily Van Fleet) flirtatious behavior toward Orlando (Seth Dhonau) as Ganymede, pretending to be Rosalind. Photo courtesy Colorado Shakespeare Festival.

Shunte Lofton portrays steady Celia – cousin and steadfast friend to Rosalind. Celia merely exchanges one woman’s role (high born) for another (low born – Ganymede’s sister, “Aliena”) when the two find refuge in Arden, but Lofton’s reactions to the flirtations of Rosalind pretending to be Ganymede pretending to be Rosalind reveal perfect comic timing.

Ganymede-and-Orlando

Emily Van Fleet as Rosalind as Ganymede, giving Seth Dhonau as Orlando, lessons on how to woo his Rosalind. Photo courtesy Colorado Shakespeare Festival

Seth Dhonau brings plenty of charm and determination to the likeable Orlando, who wants nothing more from his brother Oliver than what was promised him in his father’s will. Orlando is steadfast and grateful to Adam, the old family servant who stands by him, and enjoys Ganymede’s flirtatious game that is to teach him how to fall out of love with Rosalind, though in reality it only increases his ardor. In a bit of a mirror role, Dhonau also plays William, the very simple, lovesick swain of the shepherdess Audrey, who is no match for the wit of his sudden rival, Touchstone.

Emily Van Fleet shines as Rosalind. Not only as Rosalind, but also in her disguise as Ganymede, in “his” relationships with the shepherds and shepherdess in Arden, and Ganymede pretending to be Rosalind in “his” attempts to cure Orlando of his love for her.

And after Rosalind has worked her own special kind of magic and, with the help of Arden, brought happiness to all (including the perverse happiness that Jaques enjoys!), the actors segue back into band members and take their much deserved bows.

FinalJam

Seth Dhonau, Jihad Milhem, Emily Van Fleet, Shunte Lofton, Josh Innerst, John Hutton Sean Michael Cummings, John Hutton and Leslie O’Carroll. Photo courtesy Colorado Shakespeare Festival

 

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