One of Shakespeare’s greatest comedies, As You Like It, is Cincinnati Shakespeare Company’s early holiday offering, and it’s a silly delight with a big cast. The company has a tradition of producing an entertaining show from just before Thanksgiving to mid-December, and this is one of the best they’ve done. Staged by CSC veteran Jeremy Dubin, it uses most of the company’s talent — longtime performers and members of the Young Company — to pull off a familiar story with a lot of comic verve.
Orlando (antic Geoffrey Warren Barnes II), the youngest son of a late nobleman, chafes at the domineering ways of his older brother Oliver (dour Brent Vimtrup). He’s so disrespectful that Oliver lines up a wrestling match with Charles (imperious Douglas Fries), who’s a good foot taller and more skilled, with the instruction to demolish Orlando. After a comic physical mismatch, wiry Orlando defeats Charles and wins the heart of Rosalind (intelligent and congenial Sara Clark), who witnesses his victory. She’s the daughter of a banished nobleman (Barry Mulholland) and soon finds herself sent away from court, too. To travel more freely, Rosalind dresses down in men’s clothing.
In the forest of Arden, Rosalind, her friend Celia (the always humorous Miranda McGee) and Touchstone (Billy Chace as the manic court fool) meet an array of comic characters, while Orlando’s love for her is tested by Rosalind, playing the young man to the comic hilt. There are country bumpkins (Jim Hopkins, Justin McCombs, Maggie Lou Rader and Tess Talbot), a melancholy sourpuss of a courtier named Jaques (Paul Riopelle) and a series of misadventures that conclude with multiple marriages. It’s a happy, good-natured evening full of joy and laughter.
It’s made all the more entertaining by Abbi Howson’s amusingly exaggerated Victorian costumes and Shannon Roberts’ scenic design: The fairytale Forest of Arden is overhung with rope streamers suggesting odd foliage. Dressed as if on their way to Alice in Wonderland’s Mad Hatter’s Tea Party, men wear top hats and women are in frilly dresses — except Rosalind, disguised as a man. Comic touches abound: Director Dubin has the fool Touchstone and Corin (Hopkins) crowded into a tiny boat, fishing and sharing a corncob pipe that appears to be stuffed with a substance recently rejected by Ohio voters. Silvius (McCombs), a simpleton shepherd, wanders on and off with a toy lamb that bleats and sometimes evades his supervision.
This production is a diverting romp and a zany rendition of a classic Shakespearean comedy, appropriate for audiences young and old.
AS YOU LIKE IT, presented by Cincinnati Shakespeare Company, continues through Dec. 12.