It's almost--but not quite--enough to make me rethink Championship Wrestling.
After all, a fighting match is where Rosalind first lays eyes upon sweetheart-to-be Orlando in Shakespeare's As You Like It. Orlando's on the card--and the endangered species list--since his fiendish brother Oliver has instructed Charles, the Duke's favorite, to kill him in the ring.
But by the end of the bout, it's clear that Charles isn't the only one who's down for the count. And the third TKO of the evening occurs when Ros presses her gold necklace upon Orlando afterward. Boom, boom; out go the lights.
You know, in some alternative universe--or a really ill-starred theater program--by now someone's bound to have re-scripted As You Like It as a 1950s organized crime/fight flick.
You can see it, right? On the eve of The Big Fight, a good-hearted, but not too bright, up-and-coming boxer runs afoul of the Mob. He takes it on the lam, but the rich society dame who's fallen for him is hot on his trail with her girl Friday, because she's worried about the big lug. Needless to say, the Mob isn't happy about either development.
Cross-dressing hijinks along the lines of an inverse Some Like It Hot ensue, while Joe Palooka slowly fights his way back from Cannery Row to the big time. Inevitably the role of Jaques, the famous melancholic and Greek chorus, is played by Howard Cosell.
Until we're forced to deal with that mutation, we'll have to be content with this charming StreetSigns production. You won't hear me complaining.
Not that director Derek Goldman is averse to pointed contemporary detours himself: Though most of the production seems content in some timeless zone, in Goldman's hands the big bout in Act One mocks the syndicated schadenfreude of the WWF--or whatever name the ringside soap operas go by these days.
As lights spin to hip-hop music, leggy production assistants display poster ads for an anime Web site alongside one for controversial Iraqi subcontractor Bechtel.
The none-too-subtle point: broadcast misery is what nails the Nielsens--and multinationals are more than willing to deliver the package. But when Touchstone, the Duke's fool, offers media criticism on the entertainment value of broken ribs, it gets derailed when Rosalind winds up the one who wants to see them. Be it the 16th century or the 21st, the promoters wouldn't put it out there if no one was interested in watching.
So stay they do, and we're grateful for it. If it is truly amusing to see Rosalind and Celia's first infatuation with Orlando rendered as a goony adolescent crush on a wrestling star, it's ultimately more rewarding to see what actors Vanessa Davis and Sarah Kocz achieve together as the female leads.
Their chemistry together is pretty much priceless. Kocz's empathy is perfect for Celia, and her gifts for physical comedy persuade. Granted, early on Davis always seems about to pop the musical question, "Why must I be a teenager in love," and she's directed to habituate to that foggy thousand-yard stare the truly smitten all have. Even so, she has all the wit required to make a fine Ganymeade when the two ultimately go underground.
Where their early scenes suggest the conspiratorial silliness of a 24/7 slumber party, the two cling ferociously together when the winds of fortune shift. With Chris Chiron's notable turn as Touchstone, the three milk the humor of reduced circumstances. In so doing, they render this production something of a buddy movie, chick-flick style. Think Thelma and Louise five centuries back thataway--but with a considerably happier ending.
It's gratifying to see Chiron continue to develop as a young actor. His fool hits a constellation of philosophical and comedic notes early on, fully justifying the melancholic Jaques' fascination. Though he and Hannah Blevins as Audrey manage to mine interesting comic notes together, we're still left to wonder what he sees in their incomplete chemistry. As a result, his take on Touchstone narrows somewhat by the end.
Lennardo DeLaine is fine when wise--but other times too cool--as Orlando, and Christopher Salazar finds one moment of comic savor when he briefly channels Brando's Stanley Kowalski turn in the role of Silvius. Of course, Georgia Martin ably animates the object of his affections as the fickle Phebe.
Meanwhile, John Murphy turns in a stock bad guy performance as Duke Frederick, and assistant director Joseph Megel overplays at times for laughs as Orlando's vaporous servant, Adam.
But Elisabeth Lewis Corley is anything but a downer here as the decidedly urbane Jaques. It's a shock to see so clear a mirror in a nearly 500-year-old character. Still, Corley's Jaques is an achievement, an Everyman and Everywoman for our time, and one who grasps and reflects the irony of this age. Her knit skullcap and sallow eye offers a visual reference to a Peter Lorre character, while her performance reflects a complex, robust and alienated contemporary feminism.
Throughout, we sense this Jaques seeks nothing more than one decent conversation with a kindred spirit. She seems mystified that wry wit, finely reasoned discourse and epicurean tastes combined are insufficient tools by which to conjure one. She appreciates far too well that the closest thing she finds to a comrade here is the fool who, by then, is otherwise engaged.
Though Rosalind notes well the price of Jaques' higher education, she still can offer no remedy for it. While others feast at the banquet of love, Jaques contemplates the shiny silverware, the cut-glass goblet, and the immaculate--and very empty--china plate.
Inexplicably, some still wonder why she doesn't stay afterward for the dance.