Idaho Shakespeare Festival's As You Like It: Shock and Awkward 

Boise Weekly's Review

"As You Like It" is a fine example of art imitating life.

courtesy of ISF

"As You Like It" is a fine example of art imitating life.

Idaho Shakespeare Festival Producing Artistic Director Charles Fee might be a visionary.

In December, when ISF released its lineup of summer plays, Fee may have had an inkling that As You Like It, William Shakespeare's play about star-crossed lovers fighting political obstacles and gender norms to unite in the Forest of Arden, would be a prophetic selection from the Bard's oeuvre. At the time, the Add the Words campaign was in full swing at the Idaho Statehouse, but Fee couldn't have known that four same-sex couples would win their suit against the state seeking to overturn its constitutional ban on same-sex marriage. The play's themes of the personal versus the political, and the urban versus the pastoral made it an uncanny choice for Boise in mid-2014.

A refresher from high school lit: As You Like It opens with young Orlando (played by Torsten Johnson) quarreling with his older brother and establishing his manly bona fides in a wrestling match. That's where Orlando meets, and falls in love with, Rosalind (Betsy Mugavero), daughter of Duke Senior, who has been exiled by his younger brother, Duke Frederick (both dukes are played by Dougfred Miller). When Orlando and Rosalind are separately exiled to the Forest of Arden, Rosalind dresses as a boy, changes her name to Ganymede and begins to test Orlando's personal and romantic mettle amid a cast of wiseacres, shepherds and expatriates.

Johnson's Orlando is thoroughly masculine: He wins at wrestling and writes sincere love poetry. So when he kisses Ganymede (secretly Rosalind, but whatever), Orlando is shocked at his sexual ambivalence. Johnson lets his usually dry, stultified delivery slip, his expression a mix of shock and awkwardness. Mugavero's Rosalind shone in this moment, too, exhibiting the desire and horror of having her love for Orlando vindicated through gendered deceit.

The other standout was David Smith's Jacques--the play's melancholic philosopher--in his long, black coat and oversized hat, who personifies this production's many dualities by being equal parts bilious and tender. His towering presence on the stage, coupled with the fact that Jacques contributes practically nothing to the plot, made Smith's energetic performance conspicuous.

The ISF production of As You Like It was set in a pre-WWI America, with the gents wearing high collars and wide-brimmed hats, and the ladies in poofy dresses and lace. The set, which alternated between the sooty industrial and the pristine woodland, invoked a world where the line between the city and the country was as sharp as Shakespeare's dialogue.

As You Like It opened with an acerbic green show that took aim at Idaho Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter's defense of traditional marriage in light of his divorce, the Add the Words movement and Superintendent of Public Education Tom Luna. Like so many of Shakespeare's comedies, As You Like It is about the transcendent power of love. The play was well-received by the audience, and rightly got a standing ovation, but it was a reminder that in Idaho, love only transcends if it's between a man and a woman.

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