By Kimberly Harper
The Sandra Feinstein Gamm chose to end its 2017-2018 season, as well as its tenure in its Pawtucket location, with William Shakespeare’s “As You Like It,” and what a high note to go out on. Co-directors Rachel Walshe and Tony Estrella have taken one of the bard’s best pieces and made it into something truly wonderful to behold.
The plot, in a nutshell is this. There’s a new duke in town, and his first order of business is to banish the old duke’s daughter, Rosalind, who escapes into the forest along with her cousin, both masquerading as young men. At the same time, the educated, wealthy Oliver is also looking to get his younger disadvantaged brother Orlando out of the picture. Orlando, who has previously fallen in love with Rosalind (and vice versa), sets off into the same forest that Rosalind is presently occupying under the name Ganymede, and seeks her (his) help in winning over his missing love. In the end, it’s a quadruple wedding and, to cop a title from another Shakespearean work, all’s well that ends well.
The play by itself is fantastic, and home to not only some of Shakespeare’s most famous lines and monologues (All the world’s a stage…) but also some of his best insults (“It’s fools like you who, marrying badly, fill the world with ugly children,” for starters). Walshe and Estrella have upped the ante by adding lots of music and gender-bending many of the biggest roles in the show to give things an entirely new perspective.
There are a lot of Gamm favorites in this piece, but also some great actors making their house debut. Shura Barishnikov, taking the Gamm stage for the first time, makes a great Orlando, especially during an early wrestling match against the much larger Charles (played by Jesse Hinson, who also plays the gangly and awkwardly delightful Phoebe later on). Nora Eschenheimer returns to Gamm’s stage as the lovely Rosalind, who also makes a very attractive and compelling Ganymede. Jeanine Kane is a complicated and melancholy Jacques de Boys, and Jeff Church really steals the show as the clown Touchstone. Church is clearly an accomplished character actor whose physical comedy brings the role to another level, making his scenes some of the best in the show.
But on top of all that, the show is a visual delight. Set up almost in the round, the audience is situated to be immersed in the action, sometimes literally. The set is plain but engaging, thanks to designer Jessica Hill. And costume designer Amanda Downing Carney has outdone herself: Everyone looks fantastic, especially those women who must have menswear. Not a single detail is overlooked for the almost three hours the show runs, and it shows.
As is usual for the Gamm, this is Shakespeare done not just right, but exceptional. Catch the last show in Pawtucket before they open next season in Warwick, to miss this one would be to miss out.
As You Like It runs through May 27 at the Sandra Feinstein Gamm Theatre, 172 Exchange St., Pawtucket. Tickets start at $44 and may be obtained online at www.gammtheatre.org or by calling 401.723.4266