“As You Like It,” one of Shakespeare’s most accessible comedies gets a charming, bucolic makeover by the fertile creative minds of Slightly Askew Theatre Ensemble.
A spirited cast embraced director Ellie Schwetye’s interpretation, a gutsy view askew, which relocates this 1623 pastoral play to the Depression-era Ozarks instead of the Forest of Arden. She trimmed the show to a lean 100 minutes for the St. Louis production, which continues Wednesday through Saturday.
In 1929, Union Electric started buying farm property to create the Lake of the Ozarks. In this version, Duke Senior is now a landowner living in the forest with farmhands. He is played by a strong female, Rachel Tibbetts, who also doubles as the usurper Duke Frederick.
The plucky Rosalind (sunny Cara Barresi), the Duke’s daughter, and her cousin-best friend Celia (a delightful Katie Donnelly) flee from oppressive Duke Frederick’s court. Disguised as a boy named Ganymede, she falls in love with landowner Orlando (Kevin Minor, of Edwardsville, in an engaging performance), who is displaced, too. It gets complicated. This trio is completely comfortable spouting iambic pentameter.
The versatile and vigorous Rachel Hanks is also a standout as both Charles, a confident court wrestler, and Jacques, a gloomy lord. So is Will Bonfiglio, sharp as Oliver, eldest son of Sir Rowland de Boys, and as elderly shepherd Corin. These supporting actors always project an infectious energy that makes you look forward to what they will do with a role.
The gender-bending of roles does not distract from this show. The solid cast appears to be having a joyous time, including Tonya Darabcsek as court jester Touchstone, Alyssa Ward as courtier Le Beau and country girl Audrey, Chris Ware as shepherd Silvius, and Mollie Amburgey as the shepherdess Phebe.
All the royals learn to love their simple country encampment and find love despite mistaken identities.
This Shakespeare play features old-timey music, and it’s not “too much of a good thing”(which it introduced into the lexicon). The original folk tunes created by composer Jason Scroggins, and played by the winsome cast, are a highlight. Scroggins is on stage as Forrester, too.
The intimate space of The Chapel in St. Louis works to the play’s advantage, and the rustic set is fetching, designed by Schwetye and Bess Moynihan, who also designed the lighting.
For an entertaining and innovative touch of the Bard, “As You Like It” succeeds with its merry band of performers, reminiscent of what a traveling troupe of troubadours must have been like hundreds of years ago. And, it’s got a good beat, too.
“As You Like It”
- What: Performances by Slightly Askew Theatre Ensemble
- When: 8 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday
- Where: The Chapel, 6238 Alexander Drive, St. Louis
- Information: www.slightlyoff.org