Shakespeare’s Gender-Bending As You Like It Opens In High Park
I attended Tuesday night’s performance of As You Like It a little daunted as it’s been a while since I’ve seen Shakespeare live and because I’ve never read the play. As a young person, it took about one act before I became somewhat comfortable with the language of Renaissance England. I was pleasantly surprised by the accessibility of Canadian Stage’s production.
As You Like It is a comedy full of romance, intrigue and gender reversal. Frederick usurps his older brother’s kingdom, banishes him to the woods and allows his daughter, Rosalind, to remain at court to keep her cousin, Celia, company. The usurping duke fears Rosalind will overtake him and forces her into exile as well.
Meanwhile, Orlando, youngest son of Sir Roland de Boys, is ousted by his oldest brother and meets Rosalind while in a wrestling match at court. The two fall in love, but under the threat of death, flee the royal court.
All parties enter the forest in search of the banished Duke Senior. Orlando finds him and stays with him and his entourage. Rosalind goes in disguise under an assumed name and opposite gender with Celia and Touchstone, the court jester. The latter trio finds love poems throughout the forest written by Orlando and addressed to Rosalind. Rosalind (in disguise) meets Orlando and tricks him into wooing her.
What ensues is classic mistaken identity, gender play and forgiveness with all conflict unrealistically resolved by play’s end.
As You Like It is good but I feel it is missing a certain something to make it great. The performers are competent and fun to watch; the pace is quick, befitting a comedy, though I sometimes felt it came at the expense of the actors’ spontaneity, surprise and discovery within the scenes.
Regardless, it is fun to watch Amy Rutherford as Rosalind, posing as a man, and putting on braggadocio—essentially pretending to be a man the way a gentlewoman might. It is refreshing to see such a strong female character carried by such a strong female actor in a period piece. The physical comedy of Sean Dixon and Shauna Black, who play the fool, Touchstone, and the shepherdess, Audrey, is also enjoyable and the musicians round out the performance nicely.
The costumes are bright and cheerful. The wrestler is decked out in primary colours. Rosalind is fresh and spring-like in a yellow blouse and coral skirt. Her alter ego, Ganymede, is boyish in head-to-toe denim. Celia, in disguise as Aliena, is dressed in a floral skirt with tulle overlay and floral patterned rain boots, which enhance the pastoral motif.
High Park is the perfect setting for the play. As You Like It is set in the country among a community of shepherds and the greenery of the park gives the set veritas. It is no flight of fancy to imagine that we are part of Duke Senior’s forest party or wedding guests in the final scene.
As You Like It is accessible, entertaining, good for all ages and perfect for date night.
- As You Like It is performed in repertory with Titus Andronicus at the High Park Amphitheatre (1873 Bloor Street West).
- Performances run from June 26 to Aug. 30 with performances on Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday at 8 p.m..
- Each performance is free for people under 14 and pay-what-you can for adults, with a suggested contribution of $20
- Seating is first come, first served
- Tickets can be purchased online
Photo of Alexander Plouffe and Amy Rutherford by David Hou