Gulf Islands Driftwood
Voice of the Southern Gulf Islands

As You Like It provides gentle fun

Mouat Park is transformed into the idyllic Forest of Arden for select nights this month as exitStageLeft Productions brings Shakespeare’s As You Like It to an updated setting in the Summer of Love.

Director Jeffrey Renn’s vision turns out to be a sound one. The “back to the land” ethos lends itself well to As You Like It’s loose assembly of noble outcasts trying to make a new home in the woods. And a flowered garland is equally well placed on the brow of an Elizabethan maiden as a flower child from 1967.

The scene is set before the play begins with a song circle starting a half-hour before showtime. Attendees are advised to get their seats in the Mouat Park meadow in time to participate, as the songs are key to establishing the mood of the time period.

The audience’s participation serves to break down the separation between the world of the play and the real world before the action even starts. The staging of the play within the forest is another effective way of reinforcing that ideal: There is no constructed stage or set to distance the actors from the audience, and many of the entrances are done through the crowd rather than from the “wings.”

After such a strong-set-up, Renn’s emphasis moves to Shakespeare’s plot rather than an insistence on hammering home the theme. Small script changes make the story more cohesive, but the overall effect is light.

A veteran of the stage, including Shaw and Stratford festivals, Renn also lends his experience to a prime role. Hearing him deliver his lines as Jacques is a delightful insight onto how Shakespeare’s language is able to reach home even today. The character gets several famous lines and speeches, including the Seven Stages of Man — and it’s a treat to hear them delivered by a professional.

ExitStageLeft company principals Christina Penhale and Jekka Mack are also right on track. As the play’s central figure Rosalind, Penhale in particular gets to show what a fine actor she has become over the years, demonstrating a vigorous engagement with love and justice for all. She moves easily from the love-struck woman jealous of a single minute of her lover’s time to a no-nonsense arbitrator of others’ situations.

For more of this play review, see a copy of the July 5, 2017 issue of the Driftwood newspaper.

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