One of the most anticipated productions of the Alabama Shakespeare Festival's season is the Intern Company's annual abbreviated Shakespeare that tours to schools throughout the Southeast before an all-too-short run in the Octagon Theatre. -- Under Greta Lambert's expert editing [indeed, entire scenes and several characters are expunged], the texts retain the essentials of plot, character, and theme, and as their director she capitalizes on her eight member ensemble's talents and enthusiasm to demonstrate Shakespeare's relevance to contemporary life.
This year's exciting journey is As You Like It, one of the Bard's most consistently popular comedies. In a mere hour and a half, we have two sets of feuding brothers, a masterfully choreographed wrestling match [the fight consultant is Cory Lawson, one of the Intern actors], delightfully romantic adolescent lovers, a witty fool, gender switching disguises, a melancholy philosopher, and silly rustics brought to life by a group of actors who play multiple roles with the mere change of a hat or a coat -- and since much of this comedy relies on characters in disguise, this company's adroitness in switching roles is so fluid that you'd swear there were more than eight of them.
Two pair of feuding brothers set the action in motion. Duke Frederick has banished his elder brother Duke Senior [both are played convincingly by Jonathan Weber], but has allowed his niece Rosalind [Betsy Helmer] to remain at court as a companion to his own daughter Celia [Jessica G. Smith]. At a David and Goliath wrestling match between Charles the Wrestler [Cory Lawson] and the underdog Orlando [Patrick Burr], Rosalind and Orlando fall in love-at-first-sight without expressing their mutual fervor. A fine chemistry here. -- When both Rosalind and Orlando are banished [he by his brother Oliver [Mike Petrie, Jr.] and she by her uncle], they each flee to the Forest of Arden.
Rosalind disguises herself as a man named Ganymede, and Celia accompanies her in the guise of Aliena, Ganymede's poor sister; they are accompanied by the Fool Touchstone [S. Lewis Feemster], and Orlando takes with him the aged Adam [also Mr. Feemster], and spends his time composing amateurish poems praising Rosalind which he hangs on every available tree in the forest.. -- Inevitably, they meet up in the pastoral setting of the Forest where Duke Senior has established himself along with several Foresters and the melancholy Jaques [Cory Lawson in a merrier than anticipated role, but whose "All the world's a stage" speech still hits home].
The element of disguise garners much of the laughter of this production. Having found Orlando's poems, Rosalind as "Ganymede" helps the awkward and unsuspecting Orlando woo "Rosalind" by having him practice on "Ganymede", but to further complicate matters, a local swain named Silvius [Jonathan Weber again gets our sympathy] is helplessly in love with shepherdess Phebe who rejects his attempts to win her; Phebe [a feisty Metushaleme Dary] falls in love with "Ganymede" when "he" castigates her for her abusive treatment of poor Silvius. -- And Touchstone falls for the goatherd Audrey [Mr. Petrie in an outrageous impersonation complete with a beard that belies "her" sex].
So there is a lot to resolve by the end, and as this is a comedy, all will be settled with weddings and celebratory dancing.