For those who are not particularly fans of Shakespeare, the bugbear is always the same: “I have no clue what they’re talking about!”
The immortal Bard’s poetic dialogue can indeed be daunting for some. It’s definitely flowery and verbose and can even be damned wordy and difficult at times to comprehend or follow. That being said, audiences checking out the Long Beach Playhouse’ current Shakespeare offering of his classic “As You Like It”( on the Studio Stage upstairs) will have no trouble thoroughly enjoying this delightful comedy set in 1955 Manhattan.
Standout direction by Michael Hernandez-Phillips keeps things moving quite well in spite of the two and a half hour running time. Excellent blocking and utilizing of the playing spaces with an ensemble cast that fills every square inch of the stage.
A very cleverly designed set design by Spencer Richardson is employed to full effect by most of the cast who all double as valued stagehands in moving set pieces, backdrops and the like around to coincide with each scene. Kudos for the teamwork that made the dream work!
Costume and wardrobe design Christina Bayer and team is equally on par with the proceedings. Everyone looks terrific and right out of the “Mad Men” TV show or a beatnik coffeehouse of the era.
Comprising the cast are many veterans of the Long Beach Playhouse and newcomers alike. David Clark Hutchison, Zion Aguilar, Jessica Plotin, Marco Estrada, Jared Gaxiola, Jacob Gerard Caldwell and Taylar Ann all play multiple roles and are never wasted in each respective role. There are quiet moments and, of course, bombastic moments applied equally with relish for the front seats and the back row. Lots of fun with much physical comedy that completely serves the play. Well done to all!
Standout performances by the lead cast are Andy Justus in the role of Oliver. His choreographed fight is great and his zeal is present in every scene! Zion Aguilar plays two roles but his Jaques is romantic and passionate whether quoting poetry or spitting out his contempt. Really fun to watch and his French accent is right on point.
Ryan Hollon is a joy to cheer on with her endless enthusiasm for Shakespeare as the dialogue rolls off of her tongue, matched with a humor that completely “gets” how to perform the Bard. Ben Trotter has the weight of playing “the straight man” as his long suffering Orlando patiently waits at the feet of love and its infinite possibilities of a happy future, but his performance is never boring as it propels the plot forward.
Courtney Johnson and Skylar Alexis respectively command their portrayals of Rosalind and Celia in their own right, but their stage time is so intertwined that it’s hard to come away with anything but that these two characters have known each other for so long that they can practically finish the others’ sentences. It’s magnificent to watch Johnson and Alexis; their razor sharp timing, the business of LISTENING when the other is speaking or the silent movements of each actress in moments where the focus is not on them. These two are total pros and THAT good in what they’re doing. There’s no doubt that each of them will hit loftier heights in their acting careers.
Whether you like Shakespeare or not, do yourself a favor and see this charming production at the Studio Stage. You’ll come away with a much larger appreciation for good local theater, a solid ensemble cast and how easily they’ll convince you that you suddenly became a Shakespeare fan.
Playing in the Long Beach Playhouse’s Studio Theater
As You Like It
By William Shakespeare
Sept. 2 – Sept. 30, 2023
Directed by Michael Hernandez-Phillips