I confess: Richmond Shakespeare's concept of five people playing all the parts in a Shakespeare play is often distracting, and at times I find the prop/costume changes awkward. But the five-actor version of "As You Like It," playing at Second Presbyterian Church, has made me a convert to this type of production.
Director Andrew Hamm has done a masterful job of choreographing a vibrant, witty homage to this prototype of romantic comedy. The transitions were seamless, and the onstage costume changes mostly worked well.
The many characters who romped through the forest of Arden, celebrating the rites of spring with music and dance, could threaten to get mixed up -- especially considering the multiple identities already at work within the story but there was an ease and confidence to the production that precluded any disorientation.
Hamm warmed up the audience with a piano-accompanied set of contemporary love songs. It set the tone for a breezy show, delivering a cast of characters that exuded playfulness. Frank Creasy (as Charles, the Duke's wrestler) pushed the limits of kayfabe during the better-than-WWE wrestling scene with Patrick Bromley's Orlando.
Sunny LaRose was adorable as the love-struck Rosalind (disguised as the youth Ganymede in the forest). LaRose's onstage relationship with Julia Rigby's Celia portrayed a connection whose bond was "stronger than that of sisters." And despite the wonderful silliness of Creasy's dancing and Bromley and Adam Minks in women's roles, the gender-bending performances of the two natural girls were the strongest overall.
The beautiful costumes designed by Rebecca Cairns blended soft, earthy tones of creams, gold and floral prints that intertwined through all the costumes like ivy on a tree trunk. The effect was a cohesive, well-tailored look that added a dash of sophistication and sumptuousness to the show. Cairns not only designed a whimsical collection of costumes, but also managed to define characters with minimal pieces that functioned well for those quick transformations. S
The Richmond Shakespeare Theatre's production of "As You Like It" runs Thursdays-Sundays through April 20 (no performance April 12) at Second Presbyterian Church, 5 N. Fifth St. Tickets are $13-$24. Call 866-BARD-TIX or visit www.richmondshakespeare.com.