Purists may quibble, but there is nothing inherently wrong with updating Shakespeare's "As You Like It" and setting it in New York City during the Great Depression. At least that is what this reviewer thought before seeing the Art Deco staging at Rancho Santiago College's Phillips Hall Theatre, where it is playing through Sunday.
Why not turn the Forest of Arden into Central Park? Because, as happens in this production, a guy on a park bench says: "Come, shall we go and kill us venison?" Why not turn Oliver's orchard into Oliver's swank supper club? Because the bartender says: "Yonder comes my master." Why not turn Duke Frederick's palace lawn into Le Boutique? Because one fashionable deb shopping for dresses says to another: "I pray thee, Rosalind, sweet my coz, be merry."
With a cast of thousands (OK, dozens), this production is a great big dolled-up eyeful. The lengthy first act--which is all this reviewer stayed for--has mobsters in snap-brim fedoras and floozies in fringes, swells in white tie and tails and overgrown kids in knickers, the unemployed masses marching for jobs ("Hire Me! I'll Do Anything!" says one sign) and society ladies in cloche hats and fox stoles. It even has Madison Square Garden in lights.
But what a great big fat earache it gives you. Except for Rick Franklin as Duke Frederick (doubling as Duke Senior), Brent Hardwick as Jaques ("All the world's a stage") and Curtis Rhodes as Amiens (singing and playing the ukulele), the largely student cast cannot handle Shakespeare's language. And, given the ludicrous incongruities of the staging, the actors sound even worse than they might have had the play been done straightforwardly.
Had anyone bothered to make dramatic sense of the transposition from Elizabethan to Depression times, Shakespeare's comedy might have worked. (OK, barely.) But as it is, you can't help wondering why the director didn't just mount a screwball satire from the '30s. Everybody could have dressed to kill and made sense too.
'AS YOU LIKE IT'
A production of Rancho Santiago College, Division of Fine & Performing Arts. Written by William Shakespeare. Directed by Sheryl Donchey. Scenic design by Gil Morales. Costumes by Karen J. Weller. Lighting and makeup by Gary Christensen. Sound by John Marczeski. Musical direction by Curtis Rhodes.
With Christopher Blake, Kevin Jones, John Merina, Stephon Willis, Rick Franklin, Colleen Dunn, Cynthia Merrill, David Langdon, Alice Diane Ensor, Arlo Gates Jr., Terry Lawrence, Robert Barshofksy, Tony Robin, Brent Hardwick, Leslie Fields, Beth Ann Marsicano, Michael Miller, Keith Dillon, Wendi de Barros, Mary Steinborn, Ken York, Tony Robin and others.
At the Phillips Hall Theatre, Rancho Santiago College, 17th and Bristol streets, Santa Ana. Curtain is 8 p.m. today through Saturday and 2:30 p.m. on Sunday. Tickets: $4 to $5. Information: (714) 667-3163.