As You Like It
I always feel awkward when I give the premise of a play by William Shakespeare- they’re often a little convoluted and I’m always missing something. But here it goes: The Duke Senior is banished to the Forest of Arden by Her (Alternative gender casting Sherry Kefalas) villainous brother and current Duke; Frederick (Thomas Tribolet). The rightful Duke’s daughter, Rosalind (Gracie Balistreri) is allowed to remain because of her close friendship with Frederick’s daughter; Celia (Natara Denga). Meanwhile, the restless Orlando (Roland Shorter) bristles under the dominating influence of his elder Sister, Oliver (Persis Tomingas). It isn’t long before several characters flee or are sent to Arden where they find adventure, opportunity, and Love.
MPC’s adaptation takes several bold choices in presenting Shakespeare’s play- obviously, there are multiple gender switches within the cast itself and the play is also set in a much more “modern” period. The Forests of Arden are a computer generated wilderness designed like Minecraft and there are multiple references to pop culture and social media. To that end, the set is incredibly simple and beautiful, a lush set of colors and blocks that allow the cast to change the world to fit their needs.
Many of Shakespeare’s most famous speeches come from this play (“All the World’s a stage”, “I saw a fool”, etc.) and are spoken by the coarse Jaques. Matthew T. Pavellas delivers an inspired performance with an intense stare and almost serpentine movements. He is one part Jack Sparrow and an equal part Toshiro Mifune’s “Yojimbo” as he moves across the stage, questions the characters motivations, and counters their humor with morbid churlishness. And he is brilliantly countered (Quite literally in one scene reminiscent of the Marx Brothers) by Rosalind’s friend and “Fool”, Touchstone. Chris McElwain brings great physical comedy and distinct mannerisms to his performance and plays a great philosophical counter to the serious “love” practiced by several of the other characters. His own relationship with Audrey (Lauren Hoelscher, bold and lusty in her portrayal of the rural country girl) is filled with suggestive innuendo and slapstick physicality.
But the primary story surrounds the play’s heroine, Rosalind. It’s her love for Orlando and her friendship with Celia that drives the story forward, leading her to take up a disguise as a young boy. Shakespeare is known for his “woman in disguise” characters, and Rosalind is among one of the best. Gracie Balistreri kicks some serious fucking ass in her performance! It’s hard to be eloquent when someone just knocks you on your ass and leaves you gasping for air. That’s what she’s done in this role and she is quickly becoming a favorite performer here on the Central Coast.
So, yeah- this is a really great play and I enjoyed myself immensely.
While the set, the performances, music, and story were all really well done I did have one small stitch to the nitpicking nagging attention to detail in the back of my brain. And this, of course, is the “Pro-Wrestling Fight Choreography” in one particular scene. With regard to the flow of the show, the fight itself is well intentioned. But as a fan of pro-wrestling, this was a situation where it feels like few involved took the time to really consider what they were doing. There’s a reason that people “don’t try this at home”… and with each loose tumble and rush forward, I was honestly worried that the performers were going to seriously hurt one another. And not in the way I should be worried. But this is a detail that may be more particular to me than to others.
All in all, the show is a solid 9 out of 10.