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As You Like It
by William Shakespeare
Adapted by Ellie Schwetye with Original Music by Jason Scroggins and Cast
Directed by Ellie Schwetye
Slightly Askew Theatre Ensemble
February 5th, 2016

Cara Barresi, Katie Donnelly, Kevin Minor and cast Photo by Joey Rumpell Slightly Askew Theatre Ensemble

Cara Barresi, Katie Donnelly, Kevin Minor and cast
Photo by Joey Rumpell
Slightly Askew Theatre Ensemble

As You Like It is my favorite of Shakespeare’s comedies. It’s funny, it’s romantic, it’s silly, it’s occasionally bawdy, and it’s extremely versatile. There’s so much that can be done with this show depending on the director’s vision. Now, one of St. Louis’s most inventive theatre companies, Slightly Askew Theatre Ensemble, has taken the Bard’s work and given it a 1920’s Ozarks settting, a memorable bluegrass soundtrack, and an excellent, enthusiastic cast.

This is Shakespeare’s story, but it’s been a little bit streamlined and the setting updated and musicalized. Some traditionally male roles are played by women, and as women. The angry Duke Frederick and her kinder sibling Duke Senior are played as women (still called “Duke”) by one actress, Rachel Tibbetts, and the clown Touchstone (Tonya Darabcsek) and the surly forest wanderer Jaques (Rachel Hanks) are also women, among others. The story of Rosalind (Cara Barresi) and her cousin Celia’s (Katie Donnelly) flight to the forest of Arden, and Rosalind’s disguising herself as a man and entering into a teasing mock courtship with her beloved Orlando (Kevin Minor) is here, as is the story of the lovesick Silvius (Chris Ware) and the disdainful shepherdess Phebe (Mollie Amburgey). There’s also Orlando’s initially mean older brother Oliver (Will Bonfiglio), who follows his brother into the forest and a multitude of romances–both likely and unlikely–ensues.

The adaptation by director Ellie Schwetye and the musical score by Jason Scroggins, who also appears in the play as a forester and musician, is tuneful and fast-moving. In addition to the songs already included in the play, some of the more familiar spoken passages have been set to music, such as Jaques’s “Seven Ages of Man” speech and some of Orlando’s letters to Rosalind.  The actors get their moments to sing, and often play their own instruments as well. In fact, during the Arden sequences, the ensemble members often assemble in a circle onstage to play and sing.  It’s mostly bluegrass and folk styled music, including a few old standards such as “Froggy Went a’Courtin'” in addition to the Shakespearean material. And it’s all extremely well-sung, with Donnelly, Hanks, Barresi, Tibbetts, Bonfiglio and others all getting memorable solos.

The cast has been downsized, with a a few actors playing two roles, and there are strong performances all around. Barresi and Donnelly make an excellent team as cousins and best friends Rosalind and Celia. Barresi is an impulsive, lovestruck Rosalind who takes on a notable swagger in her disguise as Ganymede, and her banter with Minor’s earnest, charming Orlando is amusing.  Donnelly is a sweet but feisty, determined Celia, memorable in her scenes with Barresi and with Bonfiglio as a convincing Oliver. Bonfiglio also displays excellent comic skills in another role as shepherd Corin. Other standouts include Hanks as a particularly surly, hucksterish Jaques as well as the wrestler Charles; and Darabscek as the witty Touchstone, who engages in a sweetly goofy courtship with flighty forest-dweller Audrey (Alyssa Ward). Ware is also excellent as the besotted Silvius, playing songs on his guitar and pursuing Amburgey’s gleefully scornful Phebe with determination. Tibbetts in her dual role as both Dukes is convincingly authoritative, whether it’s in a dictatorial fashion as Frederick or as the more kindly Senior. It’s a cohesive cast that works together well, communicating the play’s sense of humor, whimsy and romance with style and tuneful flair.

The setting is established well in the technical elements of the show. The small stage at the Chapel is believably transformed in a 1920’s Ozarks Forest of Arden, with a simple but effective set by Schwetye and Bess Moynihan. Moynihan’s lighting also helps to maintain the generally festive mood, and Elizabeth Henning’s costumes are delightfully colorful and detailed, representing a variety of styles from the period and fitting the characters well.

This is Shakespeare in the Ozarks with music, and it’s marvelous. A strong cast, a great score, and lots of energy and heart highlight this joyful, witty production. It’s As You Like It as you’ve probably never heard it before, and it’s a real treat.

Cast of As You LIke It Photo by Joey Rumpell Slightly Askew Theatre Ensemble

Cast of As You LIke It
Photo by Joey Rumpell
Slightly Askew Theatre Ensemble

SATE’s production of As You Like it is running at the Chapel until February 13, 2016.

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