For the last thirty-two years, it has been a tradition for Torontonians and tourists alike to gather in High Park on summer evenings for productions of Shakespearean classics put on by Canadian Stage. Starting last year, they began what seems to be a new tradition: putting on one comedy and one tragedy on alternating nights, with both productions running for the duration of the summer.
As You Like It, directed by Factory Theatre’s Co-Artistic Director Nigel Shawn Williams, is the comedy pick for summer 2014. The ensemble is led by strong performances from Alexander Plouffe as the hopeless romantic Orlando, and from Amy Rutherford, who shifts effortlessly between her portrayals of Rosalind and Ganymede, the persona that Rosalind adopts as a disguise in the Forest of Arden. Jan Alexandra Smith’s portrayal of the tragically hilarious Jaques, and Beau Dixon’s portrayal of Le Beau and Duke Senior were other stand out performances.
The ninety-minute adaptation of Shakespeare’s work moves at a nice, brisk pace. Original music composed by Sam Sholdice is used in a large number of the transitions, and is typically performed by Gwenlyn Cumyn and Emilio Vieira, whose implied attraction is a nice added touch to the piece. The fight that Simon Fon has choreographed between Orlando and Charles (Vieira) was a great moment of physical comedy as well.
I will say that I did not see any reason behind the decision to set the production in 50s France. While the costumes designed by Lindsay Anne Black are certainly nice to look at, and the choice did not detract from the piece, it did not add anything to it either, and so I question whether it was necessary.
The atmosphere in the High Park Amphitheater is wonderful, with most people bringing blankets, cushions and picnics with them. What better way is there to spend a summer night than with a picnic, a sunset, and a theatrical classic? As You Like It is engaging and uplifting, and makes me hope that Torontonians will have the pleasure of continuing to be able to see Shakespeare in High Park for many years to come.
As You Like It plays in the High Park Amphitheater on Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday nights at 8 pm. Performances are PWYC (suggested donation $20). For more information, visit www.canadianstage.com/online/1314shakespeare